The Layers of Elevation

Note: It’s taken a year to get this post finished, but 2020/2021 were pretty dense as far as years ago. Regularly scheduled content will continue soon!

Continuing with the analog of a scholar passing examinations and taking an official post, I wanted my elevation clothing to stand in contrast to the simple, un-dyed linen robe I wore for my vigil.

Quick note: this is an image-heavy post, but rather than intersperse the images, I’m going to put them all in a gallery. Enjoy!

Scholars who would travel to Chang’an (the capital city of the Tang Dynasty) to for the annual conferrals of jinshi degrees, the final and highest degree in the civil exam framework (sound familiar?). This group was recognizable by the plain hempen robes they wore – and were called mayi (hemp-clad), buyi (cloth-clad), or baipao (white-robed).1 The word jiehe (“doffing of the coarse clothes”) described the occasion when scholar was assigned to an official post. High-ranking officials were called “vermillion-robed” (fifth rank or above) or “purple-robed” (third rank or above).

I also wanted to find a way to incorporate the SCA tradition of the laurel cloak.

I’ve already talked about the inspiration for my elevation robes, but here’s a quick review: The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team did a photoshoot of a recreation of an outfit worn by one of the donor ladies in Mogao Cave 9/Grotto 167, which is what I based my elevation ensemble on. It consists of three shirts (襦, rū) with incrementally larger sleeves, a skirt, a shawl, and shoes. (I cover the accessories and hair in other posts.)

I knew I wanted a red skirt as a nod to the “vermillion-robed” officials, and Mistress Maudelyn kindly dyed silk gifted to me by Lady Wilhelmina de la Coste. My skirt band was a gift from my laurel, Mistress Una.

I used my large-sleeved gown (da xiu shan, 大袖衫) pattern for the sleeves. I’m pretty sure when the sumptuary laws (as ineffective as they may have been) talk about sleeve width, they’re meant to curb the opulence of these sleeves. I also adjusted the sleeves so that the inner shirt’s sleeves were slightly longer, which would ensure they peaked out from beneath the teal and darker blue. I kept the body length short, so the only true “gown” in this ensemble is the laurel cloak Una made for me.

My inner-most shirt, dyed with the wax-resist method.

I spent a hot day in July with Mistress Wuennemon and Mistress Nula dying the fabric for my inner gown and shawl. We used a wax-resist method for the gown and a clamp-resist for the shawl. Countess Laurel Gwenhwyvar verch Owen ap Morgan made the blocks for my shawl, and they were so big we had to use a kiddie pool for the dye bath. I didn’t get a chance to go back and stamp stars on the ponies, and I’m not sure if I will. We also learned that batik and a hot dye bath aren’t a great combination, but I was still happy with our results.

Mistress Una made my laurel cloak, which is the large-sleeved gown (da xiu shan, 大袖衫). It’s a thin white silk with hand-printed gold laurel wreaths.

  1. Feng, L. R. (2015). City of marvel and transformation: Changan and narratives of experience in Tang Dynasty China. (Ebook). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Moving

It’s been an ongoing goal of mine for awhile now to write at least one blog post a month. Even during the pandemic, I did pretty well at keeping up with it.

Then this spring, there were whispers in my house about moving to a different state. It was a lot for me to process for a whole host of reasons, but as it became more inevitable, I eventually came to terms with the concept of, once again, moving to another state. I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to think about my blog, let alone write.

I know I have one more post to write about my elevation. I have several posts to write about camp kits. I have a jewelry project that’s been on hold for over a year now for various reasons, and I have scrolls I need to write about or at the very least upload to my gallery. Hopefully I can get settled quickly and get back into my regular posting routine in July.

Thank you for your patience. Moving is hard.

(ONWARD TO ATLANTIA!)

<3, Ouyang

On the Importance of Introductions

Say you’re about to teach a class or enter something into an Arts and Sciences competition or fair.

Can you safely assume that anyone coming to your class or reading your documentation knows anything at all about the culture, region, and time period that provide the context for whatever you are presenting?

Don’t answer quickly. Think about it. Sure, someone might be able to recognize the thing and its context by reading the class title or just looking at your entry, but what about folks for whom that isn’t their focus? What about people who are attending their first (or third) event?

Now, imagine if the topic/thing you’re working on is from a culture/region outside of Western Europe. Does your answer change?

Regardless of where your culture/region is, you should include a brief 150-400 word introduction either in your class handout or documentation that provides this necessary context. Do not assume that is known. Doing so implies that there is a “default” in our game, and while I enjoy my 14th century English fitted gown and bycocket on occasion, there is no default in the SCA. We are a glorious smorgasbord of interests.

So what do you say in this kind of introduction? Here are a couple of mine, to serve as examples.

The Tang Dynasty (唐朝, tăng) lasted from 618 to 907 CE and is widely considered the “golden age” of imperial China. The People’s Republic of China currently recognizes 56 different ethnic groups. The culture discussed here is that of the Han Chinese during the Tang Dynasty, but China has never been a monolith in terms of culture. During the Tang Dynasty, the Han majority’s tolerance for foreign influence created a cosmopolitan culture which included a stream of Chinese and Indian Buddhist monks, Turks from the northern steppes and Central Asia, Koreans, Japanese, Arabs, Persians, Malaysians, and other Southeast Asian cultures. Tang Dynasty China had cultural contact with Europe – via the Roman/Byzantine Empire. There are written as well as archaeological sources that show that China had contact with the Roman Empire from as early as the third century C.E. Unfortunately, there are elements in modern Han Chinese society that seek to oppress other Chinese ethnic groups, sometimes violently –  such as the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

This is the introduction from my Poetry of the Tang Dynasty class. It’s 168 words, and was one of the first slides in my deck. Key elements here are 1) what time period we’re talking about (618-907 CE), 2) what region (China), 3) and what culture (Han Chinese, while recognizing the variety of cultures present both in period and presently, as well as acknowledging the modern treatment of minorities by the Han Chinese).

In my Easy, Breezy, Beautiful: Tang Ladies Fashion for your Summer Needs handout, my introduction was a bit longer.

The Tang Dynasty (唐朝, tăng) lasted from 618 to 907 CE and is widely considered the “golden age” of imperial China. China today covers 9.596 million square miles and a variety of climates. Summer temperatures ranged from 115 degrees in Turpan, east of the Taklamakan Desert, 77 degrees on the Tibetan plateaus, 98 degrees in the southeast, and 95 degrees in the northeast and southwest. The People’s Republic of China currently recognizes 56 different ethnic groups. The majority ethnic group is the Han Chinese (91.10% in 2010) – a dominance that has been true throughout Chinese history so much that written accounts can really be read as a history of this ethnic group. The clothing and associated culture discussed here are those of the Han Chinese during the Tang Dynasty, but China has never been a monolith in terms of culture. During the Tang Dynasty, the Han majority’s tolerance for foreign influence created a cosmopolitan culture which included a stream of Chinese and Indian Buddhist monks, Turks from the northern steppes and central Asia, Koreans, Japanese, Arabs, Persians, Malaysians, and other Southeast Asian cultures. Buddhism grew in popularity during the Tang Dynasty, but foreign exchange and influence brought small pockets of Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism.

This is 209 words, and has all the same basic information as the Poetry introduction. I included geographic and weather information to point out not only how large China is but also the varied climates and therefore, responses to said climates in terms of clothing. I also noted the Han Chinese’s current dominance in China, though this was written before their oppression of the Uighurs had come to light. (This introduction has quite a number of references attached to it, which were scrubbed when I pulled it into this post – always cite your sources!)

In addition to the three basic points – when, where, who – include any other information that would provide additional context. For example, if I were to teach a class on the lives of women during the Tang Dynasty, I would likely note that the modern Hanfu movement has a history of supporting discrimination based on sex and other misogynistic and Han-supremacist ideas. The idea isn’t to go into a long discussion about these modern issues – that’s not the focus of the class or entry, or even our game – only to acknowledge that they exist and to bring some awareness to them. This is a culture that is living and breathing today – and understanding how the past links to the present is worth the 200 words or 5 minutes it takes to address it.

For example, if you’re presenting something to do with the Crusades, you would give some context as to the when, where, and who that is relevant to your specific topic. You might also also point out that extreme right political factions have co-opted this history in order to promote an ethnocentric and religiocentric agenda with violent rhetoric.

I encourage you to write your own introductory “boilerplate” that you can use in your handouts and documentation, tweaking as needed in order to provide the necessary amount of context for whatever you’re presenting. When, where, who will guide you well, as well as any additional what’s or why’s that you may deem necessary.

Scholarly Vigil Robes

My entire vigil and elevation was planned around the concept of someone passing their civil exams in order to take a position as an official within the imperial bureaucracy. For me, my elevation to the order was as much if not more so about the new role that I was taking on, in addition to the honor of the accolade itself. I found the scholar to official journey to be a good analog for this transition.

It’s not uncommon for someone’s vigil robes to signify contemplation or cleansing before their vigil. White is commonly seen in vigil garb and, across cultures, is associated with solemnity (it is the color of mourning in many eastern cultures) religious sanctity, and purity.

Scholars who would travel to Chang’an (the capital city of the Tang Dynasty) to for the annual conferrals of jinshi degrees, the final and highest degree in the civil exam framework (sound familiar?). This group was recognizable by the plain hempen robes they wore – and were called mayi (hemp-clad), buyi (cloth-clad), or baipao (white-robed).1 The word jiehe (“doffing of the coarse clothes”) described the occasion when scholar was assigned to an official post. High-ranking officials were called “vermillion-robed” (fifth rank or above) or “purple-robed” (third rank or above).

I wanted to follow this same narrative of transformation and accepting of a post, along with the colorless, un-dyed hemp robes as a symbol of anticipation of a new identity, especially since the metaphor of transformation was prevalent in literature of the time when discussing this event in someone’s life2.

I used lightweight, natural linen to make my scholar’s robes, which I based off the yuán lǐng páo 圓領袍 (圓領袍, “round-collared robe”) that was worn by men regardless of rank or status – the only sumptuary prescriptions on them were length, fabric, and color 3.

My first attempt at a yuán lǐng páo.

Before I cut into my un-dyed linen, I used some red cotton that I had been given to make a prototype. I’d only made one other robe before this, out of black quilting cotton, as a way to test the layers and closures, and to learn things.

I used similar construction “rules” when patterning my yuán lǐng páo – a center back seam, no shoulder seam, attached collar, sleeves, and cuffs. Because the robe closes with a button and loop at the collar, there are two panels sewn to the center front, one for each side, which curve to match the neckline and overlap with each other. Since this wasn’t intended as a high-class garment, I kept the sleeve width narrow. I also made a cross-collar undershirt (裋褐, shùhè) to wear with the robe, as the under layer’s collar can often be seen beneath the rounded collar. I chose to purchase linen pants to finish out the outfit, since I haven’t prototyped proper Tang Dynasty pants yet. I also purchased boots from Taobao via Bhiner.

To draft my robe, I took the following measurements:

  • A: edge of neck to hem (knee)
  • B: shoulder point to cuff
  • C: chest circumference (bust)
  • D: neck circumference
  • E: waist
  • F: shoulder point to hip, over bust
  • G: back of neck to shoulder
  • H: back of neck to collarbone/collar
  • I: shoulder to waist, over bust

In a modern, fitted garment, the length measurements (like A, F, and I) would be different for the front of the garment versus the back, because of the bust. But this robe is seen in art bloused at the waist – pulled out a bit so that it hangs – so I wasn’t concerned about extra fabric at the back.

The pattern consists of seven pieces in total, several of them mirrors of one another: two body panels, two front panels, two sleeves, and one collar. I chose not to line my robe, but if I had or ever do in the future, I believe that flat-lining it would be the best option. I also kept the sleeve one piece instead of adding an extra cuff, though that is something I could certainly do in the future.

Diagram of my robe. Click to embiggen.

To assemble my robe, I first stitched the center back seam together, then joined the sleeves to the body panels. Next I stitched the front panels into pairs (center front to center front), then stitched to the body panels. I then hemmed the sleeve cuffs and the edges of the front panels. I had to tweak the front panels a bit so that they would properly align with the curve of the collar, but that wasn’t difficult. I attached the collar (a single piece of rectangular fabric) by first stitching it on with right-sides together, then pressing it up and folding it down toward the inside, then pressing the inside edge up and hand-sewing it so that it covers the seam. I left the ends open so that I could attach loops made from simple tubes of fabric sewn and turned, and I used my dress form to determine where to attach the fabric buttons. Lastly, I stiched the side seams and sleeves closed, adding a set of ties at waist level to hold the inner front panel closed. I finished all my seams by flat felling and stitching them down with a slip stitch.

Once I had my red prototype done, I set about making another robe out of my natural linen.

For the shirt, I used my basic shirt pattern but adjusted the front panels so that it would be a cross-collar shirt instead of parallel. I had to make some adjustments once I had it sewn up to accomodate my bust, and I’m still not really happy with how the collar lays. I want to do some more experimenting with this before I finalize my pattern, and I also feel that the collar could stand some interfacing to help it lie flat. In period, this could have been an additional layer(s) of (perhaps coarser) fabric like horsehair. The waist ties are attached at the side seams and the ends of the collar pieces, which I also need to do more experimenting with in order to get them positioned so that the panels lay nicely across the chest.

I had some pretty intense thread-chicken moments.

To belt my robe, I used the legacy apprentice belt I was given by my Laurel, and originated with Master Allan of Moffat.

Illustration by 逆名 [blog] of various cloth headwear, and their more structured derivatives.

The term (jīn, cloth) is a broad term for cloth headwear. The basic headwear for masculine dress in the Tang Dynasty was the 幞头 (fú tóu, cloth turban). A stiffened, woven basket provided more structure and helped maintain shape once the cloth was tied on. I used a piece of black linen from my stash, X by Y, and hemmed all the edges. In future, I’d like to make a fú tóu using a lighter weight linen cloth, or a lightweight silk.

Me, along with my Laurel Mistress Una Bardsdottir and Mistress Wuennemen, who looked amazing in their ruqun, at my vigil.
  1. Feng, L. R. (2015). City of marvel and transformation: Changan and narratives of experience in Tang Dynasty China. (Ebook). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Benn, C. (2002). Daily life in traditional China: The Tang Dynasty. Westport, CT: Greenwood. p. 100

Elevation Bling – Accessory Artisan Appreciation

Some incredibly kind and gifted artisans made the various hair jewelry and accessories that I wore for my elevation.

My elevation mask, painstakingly painted by Seong Myeong Su Daegam Daesaseong.

The incredibly talented (and recently elevated!) Seong Myeong Su Daegam Daesaseong painted the red silk fabric that would become my face mask, based on a piece of embroidered silk from the Tang Dynasty featuring florals and ducks. She used the same technique she used for the rank badges on her danryeong. I highly encourage you to read more about her work over at Gold and Jade.

Her Excellency Caterina Angelique Coeur Noir made me a wonderfully repousse brass comb that served as my central hair accessory. It features a dragon (which is in my badge) and some pearled osmanthus flowers. She doesn’t have an SCA blog, but you can see her work on Facebook.

Comb by Her Excellency Caterina Angelique Coeur Noir

The Honorable Lady Sara al-Garnatiyya etched the two side combs and attached them to pre-made teeth, designing them to serve as complements to the central comb. You can see more of her metal and enamel work on her blog.

Combs by The Honorable Lady Sara al-Garnatiyya

Countess/Laurel Gwenhwyvar verch Owen ap Morgan (Northshield) made the wonderful hairpins that Mistress Una Barthrsdottir, Mistress Wuennemon die Naehrin, and Countess Aelfgifu Haraldsdottir put in my hair as part of my ceremony. I wanted to include this as a nod to the hair-pinning ceremonies that marked a new stage of live for women during the Tang Dynasty. It also meant that These large pins were meant to mimic the array seen in the donor portraits I was mimicking for my elevation outfit. She created a mirrored set of six for me, featuring laurel leaves and a squirrel, to reference my heraldry. Countess Gwen also made my peerage banner, which was a total surprise to me. You can see her work on her Patreon and on Facebook.

My amazing banner by Countess-Laurel Gwen (NS flavor). Photo courtesy of CL Gwen.

I am so incredibly thankful to all of these lovely artisans for making things for me to use during my elevation, and that enhance my overall wardrobe. They are all excellent people, and I encourage you to check out their other work.

I’ve got two more posts regarding my vigil and elevation in the queue – each about the clothing I wore for my vigil and elevation, respectively. We will be back to the usually expected content soon!

Elevated Hair

Recreation of a Dunhuang donor portrait by The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team.

I knew I would need to use some false hair for my elevation in order to get the look I wanted.

Quick recap – Tang Dynasty ladies loved elaborate, up-do hair styles that often called for padding or false hair (called “adopted hair”) to achieve the looks we see in statuary, murals, and paintings. For a more detailed look at the three basic kinds of hairdressing (hair, false hair, and headdresses), Zhang Jianhin’s essay in The Tomb of Li Chui is a good place to start. For images of modern recreations of these hair styles, see Hair Fashions of Tang Dynasty Women, by He, Jian’guo (何建國) or this guide to recreating historic Chinese hairstyles.

I even found a tutorial on BiliBili, China’s largest video-sharing platform (like YouTube), but when I sat down to try and make it, I was a million thumbs. I couldn’t get the hair to behave at all the way that the person in the video did, and I was getting really frustrated.

That’s when Phaedra de Vere came to my rescue. She offered to make it for me, and I gratefully accepted, sending her money and measurements and crossing it off my list, knowing that I was in good hands.

Phaedra made the hairpiece out of wire and hair donuts, covering it with layers of faux wefts color matched my (current) hair color (Arda CL-070).

The hairpiece’s bones – hair donuts that have been cut and put onto a wire frame.
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The finished hairpiece, with hair nets to fight flyaways.
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The guts of the hairpiece – space enough for me to tuck a bun into it, with an arrow indicating the front.

She’s absolutely stunning. Heavy – but stunning! And aptly now named “Phae” in honor of her creator.

Me, during the elevation ceremony. Picture courtesy Sir Conal MacDale

I’ll be writing another post about the various accessories I wore in my hair, courtesy of some truly awesome artisans.

Post-Elevation/Holiday Break

Hey, everybody –

I’m allowing myself to take the month of December “off.” Since my elevation mid-November, I’ve shifted my focus to art for my kids and myself. With the holidays upon us (including a kiddo birthday), I’m going to put my energy into my family.

I will be teaching a survey of Tang Dynasty Poetry at Virtual Magna Faire, and I will eventually get the various posts re: my vigil and elevation clothing and details finished and published.

But now is the time for family, food, and (COVID appropriate) festivities.

May the lights shine warm and bright for you and yours.

-Ouyang

Socks, of the Un-Fancy Variety

I’ve been contemplating Tang Dynasty socks for about a year now, and earlier this summer I finally knocked out a pair that fit me. I did my best to measure my foot in order to get the right size, looking at extant socks from the 8th century (and prior) and Seong Myeong Su’s instructions for Beoseon Socks (Korean).

My first few attempts ended up being too small to wear comfortably, particularly around the bridge of my foot.

Treasure Details - Shosoin - Imperial Household Agency
Pair of socks for Fuefuki (piper) player of Kuregaku (dance and music), No. 75, in the Shosoin Repository. Made of nishiki (colorful patterned weave silk) on purple ground. Lined with white plain weave silk.

The design of the sock is simple enough, with the top seam of the sock cut on the bias, a split at back of the ankle, and a pair of ties to secure the sock on the foot. The Shosoin Repository has two styles of socks – some shorter, and some taller socks presumably intended to be worn with boots. My plan is to wear these with my elevation shoes, since I need a thicker sock to make my boots fit.

I cut my socks out of lightweight linen and used a backstitch to sew the two pieces together, right-sides out. I turned down the top edge and the edges of the ankle split and sewed them with a slip stitch. I trimmed the seams and turned the wrong-side out and ironed the sock before stitching the seam again to enclose it. Since the seam runs down the middle of my foot, I wanted to make sure it was adequately protected from wear.

I made the ties the same way I made the ties for my banbi, only smaller, and attached them the same way as well.

Finished socks with ties.

OMG Shoes

Heads up – this is going to be a picture-heavy post, hence the use of the “read more” cut.

I’ve had my eyes on some Tang Dynasty styled shoes on Taobao for awhile. The distinct rise of the up-turned or raised toe (高头履, gāotou lǚ), literally “tall head shoe”) seen on the shoes worn by Tang Dynasty women in artwork has eluded me and my amateur cobbling attempts. The much more subtle Han Dynasty shoes, exemplified by Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army and Lady Dai’s shoes, were much easier to figure out replicate. I have a box of in-process attempts at the raised toe shoes, using a variety of “how to make it stick up” methods.

With my impending vigil and elevation, though, I didn’t feel that I had time to do justice to the shoe. I’d already put in an order in early March for a pair of canvas boots similar to what we see Tang Dynasty men in round-collared robes (圓領袍, yuánlǐng páo) wearing, but they didn’t arrive until late May, due to the pandemic. Because international and domestic shipping are so significantly delayed, I was afraid if I ordered a pair from China, they may not arrived in time.

Someday, shoes – someday you will be mine.

Shoes from the Taobao listing linked above, in a variety of styles and colors. Those red ones…
Continue reading “OMG Shoes”

When You’re Wrong

Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

Last summer, there was one of those “tell us about yourself” SCA memes bouncing around Facebook. This one included how to pronounce your name.

I filled it out and posted it, using the pronunciation that I had been using since about 2016, while the name was still in the process of being registered.

The thing is, I had been pronouncing it incorrectly, and by doing so, had perpetuated others in pronouncing it incorrectly. I was wrong, and because I didn’t know, other people who looked to me as an example were also wrong.

This post has been a long time coming – believe me, I know. Every time someone has said my name, either in greeting or introducing me, in the past year and change, I have cringed a little on the inside knowing it was incorrect, but also felt like it wasn’t the right time to correct them, due to some context or another.1 Since I was first corrected, I have wanted to do a longer “I was wrong” post, but I also wanted to tie it into a larger conversation about being wrong. But it kept getting put off, then forgotten, then remembered whenever someone said my name. And then I’d feel guilty about not having done it yet.2

That changes today. Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

I should have written this sooner – not over a year after being corrected – and I’m sorry. It’s not the fault of the herald that helped me – they told me how to pronounce it correctly when we decided on the name. I can’t say for sure how the pronunciation got messed up in my head, but it did, and I am very, very sorry for making and perpetuating this mistake, and thereby not doing right by the Chinese language, its people, and their history.

Why is this such a big deal? It’s just a name, right? Names are words – words that are attached to people. And words are powerful. Names are powerful. And this name, this proper noun, is also from a language that I do not speak and a culture that I do not personal identify with. So getting it right matters a lot, and getting it wrong is bad.

All I can do now is acknowledge the mistake and point it out when my name is mispronounced. I am sorry for not doing this sooner. I will, as always, strive to do better.

<3

  1. I’ve tried to retrain my own voice to say it the correct way, and I’m doing better. 4 years of saying a word one way takes a conscious effort to correct.
  2. That happens a lot. It’s weird, and stupid, but it’s my brain. I’m working on it.