The Quest for the Golden Seamstress is a really unique SCA event held in the Midrealm every spring. Most SCA events nowadays have the general structure of having various marshal activities all day (rapier, armored combat, archery, thrown weapons), alongside some A&S classes (Arts & Sciences), which wrap up with court, a feast, and then dancing. Not the Quest for the Golden Seamstress: it’s SCA Project Runway!
People form teams of 1-6 people, who do varying levels of research into making garb for one person on the team. That’s not just making the clothing, either, but also the shoes (leatherworking), accessories (jewelry making, glassblowing for making Viking beads, metalsmithing for metal bracelets and handheld items like tweezers, etc), undergarments, purses, embroidery, trim… all of the many things that go into making an outfit!
Depending on the difficulty category (Novice, Advanced, or Master), you’re allowed to do a certain amount of it before the event (usually things such as undergarments like corsets, and sometimes getting started on making accessories and embellishments). The contest starts at 10 pm on Friday night, and until 6 pm on Saturday evening, you try to finish an entire set of SCA garb for one person. Then you get judged!
There are four ways to participate in the event. First is be a part of event staff – the lovely people who do gate and making food – and second is to a judge. Third, you can be one of the contestants! We sometimes even get contestants from outside our Kingdom, as this is such a unique event to be a part of. Finally, you can show up for “dinner and a show” on Saturday evening, to see the final runway of everyone’s accomplishments!
Last year, I was in the latter category, and really enjoyed seeing the results of everyone’s labor. It’s fascinating to see all the layers that people make – it’s a LOT of work. This year, I decided to try doing the event as a contestant.
My group was called the Tudor Tailoresses, and we made a Tudor gown for Helva.
Here is a picture of the workbench of the person making all of Helva’s jewelry! It’s amazing how much work goes into it. She spent almost the entire event making it.
I spent the entire event, and more than 10 hours before the event, making inkle woven trim and then sewing that trim onto the Tudor gown. This first picture is actually an abandoned piece of trim – I warped this up, only to remember how much I loathed doing really wide trim. It takes a lot of focus to make sure that the trim stays the same width, constantly measuring it to make sure it’s even. By the time I started this piece, I was so tired that I gave up and cut it off the loom and changed it to something easier to weave.
Here is a bunch of the trim I did finish! The picture doesn’t do it justice, because that white thread actually has a silver piece of tinsel wrapped around it and it sparkles wonderfully. The diagonal pattern is all pick-up inkle weaving. The gown has two entire 8.5′ pieces of pick-up woven trim involved, and another 4′ of regularly woven inkle trim.
The lovely Helva, modeling the Tudor dress! I wish I had taken more detailed photos. Her head wrap has stunning embroidery on it. The sleeves are pinned to the dress with pins made on site by our jewelry maker. So many details in this!
You can see that we didn’t quite finish – there’s a lot of hemming and little fixes still to do. A lot was accomplished, though!
All in all, I’m not sure I’m cut out for being a contestant at this event. Some people really thrive on the pressure and deadline and working through much of the night (many people do sleep for some part of the event, but it’s not exactly quality sleep on an air mattress in a room next to all of the sewing people). I really like my sleep uninterrupted and don’t handle lack of sleep well, and I don’t think I like this kind of pressure when making things. Everyone at the event was super awesome, but everyone was also focused pretty strongly on working, so socializing was minimal. On top of that, by midway through Saturday I was pretty miserably tired, and focused on keeping my crabbiness locked inside my head and being pleasant to others (which I’m pretty proud of doing successfully, but it wasn’t fun).
That said, I am extremely happy that this event exists! I’m glad I tried it once as a contestant, and I definitely plan on being back for the “dinner and a show” option in the years to come. ~Birke