An outfit from the Nara Period

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The following is a rush job - both the project and my documentation of it at the time. There will be gaps and holes and missing bits, but it deserves to be here, even after all this time.
A mere three weeks after my Laurel elevation, I got a phone call from Li Guang Ming of the Outlands, asking if I would be attending Estrella War and if so, would I speak at his elevation to the Order of Chivalry. Li and his lady, Wu Xi Lian, had come out to attend my elevation, decked out in their best Chinese finery. "Are you sure?" I remember asking. "I've been a Laurel for what, three weeks?" He was sure - because I knew what can be like to portray a persona from a non-Western culture in the SCA.
What follows is what I've cobbled together from posts I made to the Tousando forum at the time. 

February 26, 2012 -In honor of Li Guang Ming's impending knighting, I'm working on an ensemble from the Chinese-influenced Nara period (710-794 CE).

Today's project, stencil a mandarin-duck motif on the panels for my mo(skirt). The design was taken from a floor covering in the Tokyo National Museum collection that appears in my copy of Jodai Gire: 7th and 8th Century Textiles in Japan from the Shoso-in and Horyu-ji by Kaneo Matsumoto. Similar rokechi-dyed designs appear on a skirt from the Turfan tomb finds in China which dates to about the same time. 


I ended up not cutting out an extremely fiddly bit between the duck's feet as the finished fabric is going to end up being pleated so much it won't be missed.

And on that note, the paint should be dry enough for me to shift to the next section.

March 17, 2012 - The classic Chinese tale of Monkey's Journey to the West mentions him wearing cloud stepping shoes. Imagine my delight when I saw a pair of Tang dynasty slippers at the Secrets of the Silk Road exhibition last year, complete with little padded "clouds" on the toes.

The Shoso-in Repository contains four surviving pairs of similar sengai from the 8th century. This image is of the pair in the best state of preservation.  [In the years since I did this project, the Imperial Household Agency has not only added a full English language portal to the Shosoin website, but added detail images that were not available to me in 2012!]

The originals are constructed entirely of fabric (ramie and silk brocade) and the padded decoration on the toes stuffed with grass. They were women's slippers, intended for wear inside the palace.

Mine, however, have to stand up to outdoor wear, so my treatment is definitely more costume than historical reconstruction. A pair of rubber soled flats from Target gave of themselves unstintingly.


First shoe with fabric glued into place, waiting to be trimmed


Template for toe ornament. Believe it or not, I traced a wooden kitchen spoon to create the lobes. (Hey, you knew my mind was a strange place. 


Attachment of stuffed toe ornaments in progress. I used a combination of hot glue and stitching to attach them. You can see the first one is standing at attention at the moment. 


The finished shoes. (I can see I may need to go back and trim a few threads.)

Author's note: The green is actually the back side of one of those slick silk-rayon blend Chinese brocades, but I liked the more subtle greens for the shoes. Besides, the red would get used elsewhere.)


April 1, 2012 - Very, VERY quick post before I collapse for the night. The lovely in red and white (with painted blossoms on her dress!) is the talented Furen Wu Xi Lian, wife of the Outlands' newest knight, Wuxia Li Hsiao Lung (and I probably have mangled the appropriate titles).

Of course, I managed to get something in my eye earlier that day and was tearing and irritated so I decided not to make things worse with cosmetics. 

Author's note: I never did write notes about the other garments or accessories at the time, but as I say, it was a rush project.

The haishi is more of that Chinese Brocade,* but it was what I could get at the time. The under robe is some leftover silk from Thailand, stencilled with Laurel wreaths. 

The obi was one I already had. The scarf started as two white scarves from Dharma Trading, that were sewn together, folded and then dip dyed in a bucket. 

The silk paddle fan started life with a picture of Chinese beauties on it. I repainted it with acrylics, based on a Tang Dynasty example. 

*Chinese brocade is shiny. It's usually a blend of silk and rayon, it's slippery and it likes to fray along any cut edge, and snags if you look at it cross-eyed. It's also generally too Chinese looking for most of the kinds of things I usually do, but it gave the right look for this project. 


April 10, 2012 - Photo courtesy of Sedania de Corwyn (Ronda Miyake), taken this weekend at Mists Coronet. The shoes need a re-think: I have to keep re-gluing them along the edge of the sole. However, I'm liking the rest of the ensemble for wearable shininess. (Oh, and the big, chunky, wabi-sabi tea bowl is better suited to eight centuries later....)


Kawamura, Machiko and Kurihara, Hiro. Jidai Ishô no Nuikata. Tokyo Genryu-sha Joint Stock Company (1984). ISBN 4773984058 

Matsumoto, Kaneo. Jodai Gire: 7th and 8th century Textiles in Japan from the Shoso-in and Horyu-ji. Shikosha Publishing (1984). 

The Shosoin Repository.

The Costume Museum.

Copyright 2019 Lisa A. Joseph