Kapp, Kerchief, Covering

We had an interesting discussion on the witness of headcovering on facebook. A video was offered for critique; many were impressed with the articulate and honest answers of the women interviewed. But two issues surfaced: I thought that the presentation was amateurish (okay, it is youtube) and hurt the credibility of the statements made; another person wondered why none of the women interviewed had covered for more than three years. All seemed to be converts to a group or church that covered. That may have been the focus of the presentation, but it wasn’t clear.

And in looking for other videos or presentations that promote headcovering, I found quite a bit of material that would leave the reader puzzled or perhaps thinking it was for members of certain faith groups and not others. Those Christian churches that have practiced covering for generations – particularly the Anabaptists and a very few Conservative Quaker meetings that continued – have little to say about it. Where are the testimonies of people who have covered for years, who have mothers and grandmothers who covered? And what about the testimony of women who have covered for many years, without much fanfare?

I am inviting all women who cover or who are led to cover to comment, with the goal of compiling those comments and thoughts into some presentation that can be used for teaching about covering.  I would like to see input from women who have just started covering, who have covered for a few years (myself included) and who have covered for many years. There are no wrong ideas or opinions in this, and we are not going to argue theology and discipline, just contribute personal experience and guidance.  Don’t worry about spelling and grammar; I will straighten that out.

Questions to consider:

Why do you cover? When did you start? Do you belong to a group that covers? How have other people reacted, positively and negatively?

You may include your name and geographic location. If you don’t want to, that’s okay.

What would be the best format for this? A blog post? A webpage? A video (eventually – we do not have the technology right now)? Would you want to refer other people to it if it was presented well? (That depending on my skills and any help that might be volunteered.)

Is there anything else that could be presented that would be helpful?

I am continuing to compile information for any updated post on modest/Plain dressing resources, and welcome more contributions.

When We Became Plain

We’ve been publically Plain for more than four years now. It was a very easy step for us, but the consequences were great, and no one expected it of two middle-aged Anglican priests. My husband, Nicholas, had lived in southern Ontario for quite a while, and often encountered Amish and Old Order Mennonite as he travelled around the province in his work. He openly admired them, the simple, Christian way of life, the lack of materialism. He adopted some of that simplicity in his life, although it wasn’t that obvious. Anglican priests, for the most part, dress quite simply. Black is the colour. That’s about it. Black shirt with white collar insert to look like clergy, black jeans or trousers, a plain black jacket or sweater. Yes, I know Anglican clergy, male and female, who are veritable peacocks. (You know who you are.) Most of us, though, keep to the simple and narrow way – it’s easier and it hides the coffee stains, which are an occupational hazard.

I, on the other hand, had closets of clothes. My daily dress was basic black, with some grey for variety. Off-duty, once out of overalls and denim jackets (raising sheep limits one’s wardrobe, too) I had dresses of fanciful shape and hue, and shoes, shoes, shoes. I had designer clothes. Oh, yes, tasteful designer clothes in those timeless styles, but cashmere, expensive wool, silk. Poor Nicholas was more than a bit intimidated by my high style when we met. (I wore designer jeans, a silk blouse and a suede cowboy hat. He was wearing an ugly plaid shirt and khakis – it just screamed “priest out of uniform.”)

Once we were together, and I had winnowed the chaff from the grain, wardrobe-wise, I was motivated to go one step further. Nicholas gave me his copy of Scott Savage’s The Plain Reader. I was home at last. Within a few days, I was down to two dresses, a skirt and blouse, and boots. I kept my black wool coat and made my first prayer kapp, thanks to Shepherd’s Hill.

But why?

It wasn’t mere Amish-enthrallment, motivated by romantic novel covers. I had known Mennonites and liked them, and had felt a bit of a tug to get Plain, but didn’t follow through. Anglicans aren’t Plain, I reasoned. No one will understand, people will hate it, I will look silly.

So I put that impulse aside. Little did I realize at the time that the hounds of heaven were on my heels.

Nicholas and I talked it over. It was a new life for us. We were already rural people, living a very simple life. It seemed practical, but it seemed more than that. We were making a break from the worldly past, and we were eager to show it. In Plain dress, with kapp and sturdy boots, I felt armored for the battle. I was ready. I was under the shelter of the heavenly hand.

That was the fulfillment of my search. I once said, “If only we could go out into the world, and take the monastery with us!”  I meant that we need to carry peace and mercy with us, sheltered by God. We move in this world, but we are not of it. We live in His Kingdom, here on earth. We are not citizens of the world of commerce and trade, just sojourners eager to return Home.

I went through many permutations of Plain, from nearly monastic to what I wear now, a Quakerly cape dress or jumper and a white or black kapp, and a very Plain Mennonite bonnet. I have made myself a slat bonnet, and those who know me as the most Austere of Austere Plain will be surprised to hear that today I bought two print fabrics for summer dresses, by Nicholas’s advice.

Nicholas looks the same as he has for four years or more: black shoes or workboots, black or blue jeans, black braces, Plain cotton shirt in white, beige, blue or black. He does have one madder red shirt he calls “orange” and thinks way too flash. He wears a black felt hat in winter, a plain straw hat in summer, doesn’t cut his hair and wears a full beard. He was wearing the Brethren chin beard, but his low vision now prevents him from shaving properly, and his beard and mustache have filled in. His winter jacket is his old peacoat, which he has had for many, many years. He’s a handsome man and I am blessed to have him by my side.

That’s us, Plain.

Plain Dresses from Historic Patterns

Unless you’ve inherited a very old house with a very full attic, chances are you will not find really old dress patterns. women made their own, or their dressmaker kept them for them. Godey’s Lady Book was one source; and old (19th century patterns are difficult to follow, with no directions or even sizing.

Modern historic reenactors take old garments and make their own patterns, and some are available for sale online. If your goal is to find comfortable, simple clothing, you may have to choose carefully among the patterns. Soem can be maddeningly complex. If you’ve ever been involved in hsitoric societies, you also know that many people are quite fussy about the details, so don’t get caught up too much in authenticity if all you want is a wearable day dress.  It’s easy to do if you get mesmerized by the explanations about horna nd wood buttons, hooks and eyes, hemming, natural fabrics and prints, and accessories.

I, for one, have no use for a reticule or a parasol tassel. My practical everyday dress is, while modest and plain, is not accurate for any historic period bu ttoday. I remind myself of that when I get fascinated by authentic Civil War era ladies’ boots or bonnets. I live today, in the 21st century, and I allow myself zippers and elastic. Elastic is an excellent thing, or our drawers would have drawstrings, and you know what can happen if the knot comes loose.

While a bit on the upper end price-wise for patterns, “The Sewing Academy” by Elizabeth Stewart Clark (http://www.elizabethstewartclark.com) has nice things for women and children. The patterns are $20 each.

James Country Mercantile (http://www.jamescountry.com) ha a wide variety of patterns for men, women and children. Some of the men’s things are military uniforms, but the shirt and pants patterns would be useful for Plain dress. There are patterns for women’s plain work dresses, and homestead dresses. Very interesting is a pattern for authentic bloomer suits, if you want something very modest for bicycle riding or beach wear. There are many patterns for hoods, caps and bonnets according to taste. Children’s clothes are well-represented.

A reenactor in Utah has a good blog on sewing historic “pioneer” style clothes, with lots of photos and advice: http://howtodresslikeapioneer.blogspot.com.

When I look at reenactment costumes, I am amused by the wide range of styles represented in any era, depending on one’s socio-economic class. Servants, slaves and homesteaders wore basic, modest dresses of wool, linen or cotton. Wealthy women, whether in a plantation setting or a city, wore elaborate costumes that required engineered underpinnings, made in fine cotton or silk. Today, there is little class distinction except in the cost of clothing. Only “Plain” says that one is simple living, rural-oriented, and unconcerned with fashion.

Plain Profiles: Faves All-Around

When I started to buy Plain, it was with trepidation. I am petite and very persnickety about fabrics. I modified or sewed my own at first.

But that didn’t help my husband, who needed a Plain black hat.

I ordered one from Mennonite Maidens (http://www.mennonitemaiden.com), who sent it promptly to meet a departure deadline. Nicholas wore it for years until I finally got him another one last winter. (It was decrepit, but is still in use as a working hat.) Maidens also carry bonnets, kapps, veils, kerchiefs and Amish hairpins. They have an extensive selection of aprons and modest dresses, including cape dresses, and an impressive range of old-fashioned undies. They are sweet ladies, and wonderful to work with. They are also on facebook and eBay.

Other speak highly of Katie’s Mercantile (http://www.katiesmercantile.com), although I haven’t bought from them myself. She has clothing for women and girls, including head coverings ranging from baby bonnets through veils, kapps and bun covers. She also makes modest and cape dresses as well as nightwear and unmentionables.

Many friends and Friends like Rachel’s Seamstress Services (http://rachelsseamstressservices.com). She has some very Quakerly kapps, including one designed for Quaker Jane. She makes men’s broadfalls and children’s bonnets.

For overall Plain and modest dress for women and girls, many use The King’s Daughters – as in Psalm 45.13  (http://www.thekingsdaughters.com).  They have a wide range of styles and fabrics, are exceptionally responsive to special needs, and I really like their lovely website.

Now, these aren’t inexpensive options, but for those whose sewing skills aren’t that well-developed, it is a good investment. Plain dress doesn’t change in style; well-made clothes will last for years with the occasional mending.

Do you have other favourites? I will be writing another post on this subject soon.

Plain Profiles: Headcovering

If you are new to Plain life, modest dressing or headcovering, you may be looking for sources of information and products. I will profile a couple of resources each week, and God willing, I’ll try to keep you posted with changes over time.

I used to make my own prayer caps. These are the traditional pleated soft caps, easy enough to sew yourself. Then I switched to stiff caps because I like the look and because I find they stay on better. Many of us learned to sew our own caps from Shepherd’s Hill: http://pgburrell.home.mindspring.com. I just had a look over there, and they have excellent photos of their daughter Haley’s Plain wedding.

 I recommend highly, as do many others, Plain-n-Simple headcoverings: http://www.prayercoverings.com. Everything I’ve seen is well-made and designed to last. I expect my bonnet will be an heirloom piece! Their products are traditional and vintage in style, and they carry other products for traditional women besides headcoverings. The prices and shipping costs are reasonable and fair. Don’t expect things to be to you within a few days. The women who sew here have families and households that are a priority, but the quality of their work is worth a wait.  One of their most unusual and interesting products is a set of Mennonite dollhouse-sized dolls. I so want to order a set for Patience! I think we will wait for her next birthday, when we intend to give her a good wooden doll house.

For those who don’t wear traditional coverings or want something different for home or evening, I have heard only good things about Garlands of Grace: http://www.garlandsofgrace.com. Their prices are reasonable for the beautiful pieces they sell, such as snoods, kerchiefs and bands. They have pieces sized for girls, and a line of feminine fabric embellishments. I would think that their delicate lace snoods would be perfect for a modest or old-fashioned wedding. Like Plain-n-Simple, I hear that the owners are very responsive to special needs.

If you have favourite headcovering providers, let me know.

A Trip to St. Jacobs

While we live in a tourist destination town, it’s not really the sort of place we would visit for leisure. Yes, it’s on the lake, but we are not beach people, not are we motorcycle people, nor are we boutique shopping or fine dining people.  Our idea of a good day out is a farmer’s market, preferably with other Plain people.

St. Jacobs.

It’s a town about two hours away, with a huge farmer’s market, outlet stores, a livestock exchange, and a large, well-stocked TSC. (TSC is mostly farming and barn equipment.) There are boutiques and fine dining in the town, but it was the market we wanted to see.

The drive wasn’t bad, despite rain and Ontario traffic through Kitchener-Waterloo. I like the countryside around there, with its rolling hills, neat farms and lush green everywhere. There are animals on many farms, cattle, horses and some sheep. It looks like our kind of place!

As we came into St. Jacobs, we passed an open buggy with four young men in it, getting wet in the shower.  Some of the men there wear a plain navy blue flat cap for driving, the first time I’ve seen that, instead of the brimmed hat. It makes sense; the cap stays on your head in a breeze even when the driver has both hands occupied. As for the rain – I can tell real country people, because they don’t mind a little water. It dries off quickly enough when a person starts moving around. City people are always trying to get out of rain, or covering their heads with plastic bags, newspapers – anything – in the hopes it won’t soak in and do permanent damage.

(Note that I did not take photos. First, I was driving. Second, I don’t like people to photograph me, so I allow others the same courtesy. Next time, I will get some photos of the market buildings and the horses and buggies at the TSC.)

This is a big farmer’s market. Nicholas tells me it is bigger than the one in Kitchener. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever been to. There are a couple of buildings, one the traditional hall with an upper gallery, with food stalls along the side and back to back down the middle, and craft stalls on the upper gallery.  We hadn’t brought the cooler, so we were limited in what we could buy, but the butchers’ stalls were so tempting. The bakers’ stalls had lots of temptation, but since I bake at home, I didn’t see much use in buying bread and goodies.

The craft stalls were disappointing. Maybe it’s because it’s early in the season, but they didn’t have much that was appealing.  The sort of things I would buy, that I couldn’t make myself, just weren’t there. I need a good butcher’s block cutting board, a small teapot, a drying rack and baskets, but none of that was available. Bright children’s sweaters, hand-dyed yarn, transfer decorated pottery and a bunch of decorative stuff was on display, but really, none of it was plain nor practical. Maybe later in the season there will be more crafters.

A second buiding is the Peddlar’s Village, with cubbyhole stalls, and commerically made goods. We found a new cane for Nicholas, to replace the old four-pronged he’s been using. This is a mottled copper colour, and is segmented with shock cord inside so it can fold down. He is very pleased. I’m less concerned about scratches in the floor now.

We bought pork pies, garlic sausage, and in the produce stalls, lots of vegetables, much of it grown in greenhouses here. Spotting a huge basket of garlic heads, I asked the young Mennonite woman at the stall if it was local. “Argentina,” she said with a smile. “Not very local,” I commented. Produce is either labelled with its origin or the vendor will supply the answer. (I believe this is required by law.) I was impressed by the amount of local produce available because of greenhouse growing. I consider this a hopeful trend. I’d rather see the energy expended to heat and light the greenhouse here, with local jobs, rather than being used to truck food from thousands of miles away, not yet ripe, and gassed to colour it.

It was a good opportunity to see what Ontario Mennonite women are wearing right now. Most wear the three piece dress, but some of the young ones wear the dress with a large waist apron, and no cape. Their caps are black for girls, white for married women. Some wear black ties on their white caps. The caps were all soft and pleated. Some had an elaborate pleated back, which was very pretty, and allowed room for a large bun. Their dresses are often blue or purple, but I saw brown and grey as well. The front seems to be closed with a covered placket rather than a small neck opening with snaps. They wear small calico type prints as well as solid colours, but nothing bright or large patterned. I found their dress to be very attractive.

The most interesting part of observing their dress were the bonnets. Some wore the close fitting black Wenger bonnet, with pleats and other trim, but some had switched to a deep brimmed bonnet in calico, usually purple or lavender with a small dark sprig print on it. The bonnets are quite elaborate with pleats, ruffles and even bows at the back. At a distance, a group of women in purple and lavender cape dresses, with bonnets in the same shades, is quite distinctive. Most wore black aprons over their dresses when working.

The children are dressed much as their parents. Little girls don’t always wear a bonnet, although some had on hoods for the rain, or kerchiefs. I didn’t see a child with a cap. The girls wear a simple dress with a pinafore type apron buttoned up the back. Their hair is usually french-braided. The little boys wear dark blue pants, braces, and plain shirts, with round-crowned straw hats. One little fellow decided that he would make a break for it, having obtained a bottle of chocolate milk from the family picnic table. He dashed off on his tiny shoes, with Dad right behind, scooping him up. The boy couldn’t have been more than a year old, and looked like a miniature of his father, minus the beard.

There ae other Plain dressing groups in the area, possibly Reformed or Brethren. The men wore dark hats and clothes, and were clean-shaven. Some of the dark-bonneted women may have been their wives. It’s hard to tell, since we Plain people often borrow a suitable style across group lines.

Nicholas has been looking for months for a suitable summer hat. Most commercially available straw hats from chain stores don’t appeal to him, with bright headbands, cowboy hat crowns, or too much roll to the brim. I’ve bought a couple over the years we’ve been together, and he has found them uncomfortable or too flashy. He stopped a group of young men, who looked at him nervously, as if they were expecting a reprimand. But all he wanted to know was if there was a vendor at the market selling summer straw hats. No, they said, they got theirs at the TSC. So after we finished our market shopping, we went to the TSC, across the road, and found another group of young men gleefully trying on new hats. (I assume this a ritual antecendent to courting – their hair was also sleekly cut, rather than chopped off at nape and forehead as older married men wear theirs.) We found two suitable hats at a suitable sale price. Nicholas doesn’t need to go courting, but I think he was as pleased as the boys. I found a good corn broom, too – my heart’s desire! TSC also carries a selection of children’s farm-themed toys, and I am contemplating a full barn with fences, animals and bales of hay for Patience’s Christmas gift.

We ate Oktoberfest sausage and headed home. (Getting lost on the way – there’s a lot road construction through Kitchener-Waterloo.) We are planning a trip for next month, but we will be better equipped next time, with a cooler, ice packs, and my packbasket.

Tired of Plain Yet?

This is my newest bonnet – the custom made Wenger style that Bayley at Plain n Simple provided. I like it very much. The construction is of a plastic mesh, which makes it light and keeps it from getting too hot. The jersey fabric is also light and breezy. The ties are fabric, the same material as the bonnet.

I wear this bonnet when I go out, except for driving. It cuts back on my peripheral vision just enough to be hazardous. Remember that in a bonnet, your hearing and vision can be affected. Be careful at street crossings, driving or afoot. Even driving a buggy would be a problem if the bonnet shades your face. You need to see things as fast as the horse does, so be careful not to block your vision.

This was a major investment for me, but I expect to wear the bonnet for many years.