Posted by: Aunt Magaidh | March 28, 2010

Musings of a Ren Faire Newbie – Finding useful information, references and friendly fiends

Disclaimer:  If someone takes issue with what I write here, please understand that as a newbie, I can only speak to what I have experienced over the last couple of years.  I don’t know much about the politics or history of the various guilds, performers, or faires.  No disrespect is intended.

After writing the last four parts of Musings, I thought how putting together a list of my research online might help newbies and other faire performers.  This is an attempt to put together that list.   If it seems heavy on West Coast sources, please understand that I’m using the resources that I know about based on the people I run into at faire here in Northern California.  I’m sure that there are some other great resources out, but I just don’t know them. Yet.

Let’s move on to the research resources.  If you find this useful, great.  If you think my info is garbage, toss it.  If you can pick and choose parts that work for you, I consider this a success.   My apologies for not putting names in if I couldn’t figure out the authors.  I’m not even going to try to alphabetize things.  If some of it is, lovely – if not, deal with it.  (Writing a blog is supposed to be fun.)

How to find useful, relevant, and specific information on the internet.

First, let’s talk about books.  I am not putting that many books on this list.  Basically this is because most of the research I’ve done has been on the internet.  Why?

  • Although my community library is nice, its selection of information that I can use is pretty limited.  There are books for Halloween costumes, “Costume through the Ages” books with color plates or drawings mostly depicting upper class/nobility folks, general history books for the time period, and about 4 cooking books that have some recipes that are period focused.
  • Because, although the UC Berkeley library isn’t all that far, parking sucks near the campus.
  • Because my time is limited.  I have to sneak my research in when I’m not doing family things, housework, or looking for a job(Anyone want to hire me for fun/faire/crafty/or minimal-drama office administrative assistant kind of job?  20-40 hrs a week? For a decent wage? In the East Bay? I’m interested.  Contact me.)
  • Because books not available through the library can get expensive.
  • Because I don’t have room for more books in my house.  (I have other interests that already take up 3 full size bookcases along the wall.)

This is not to say that I haven’t used books for my research, but I figure that for the newbie the internet is the best way to start gathering information.  As a newbie, I think you are still deciding if this is the hobby for you and the startup costs of joining a guild and putting together your faire supplies (garb, camping gear, guild fees, transportation to and from faires, etc.) add up quickly.  Therefore, cheap and free is a good thing.  There is some really great information available online.   There is a boatload of BS out there as well.  Your job is to find the good and ignore the bad.

There is a caveat to using internet sources. Maybe two.  Or three.   Oh heck.   Let’s just talk about a few tips to using the internet for research.

Although you can find out all sorts of stuff on the internet, you’ll need to scrutinize the sources.  You can find all sorts of generic articles about going to faire and what to wear and such, but some (a lot) of it is drivel.  (Oh, I guess I am saying that.  Ah well – it’s just one woman’s personal opinion.)  You have to realize that most of these articles are written to the beginning patron, not the beginning Rennie.  To find useful info, you have to get really specific about the information that you are looking for.

Many online articles will refer back to the same source.  And the information is only as good as that source.  I’ve been finding that some of the history information means figuring out when was the information gathered.  For example, be careful about the clothing information from sources that use the Victorian age researchers.  The Victorians really romanticized or “cleaned up” the information they found and published.  (Remember the general population basically followed their Queen’s rather prudish tendencies.  Come on – covering the legs of chairs???)

I’ll try to put some search suggestions for each topic below.

Don’t forget that you can use information that is earlier than Elizabethan to support your Elizabethan knowledge.  It pays to understand Medieval influences because they would have still been around in some way…like you get your grandmother’s cookie recipe but use modern timesaving techniques.  For instance, this site – – shows Viking living history in Glasgow.  When you look at their pictures, they are using materials and techniques that would still be relevant to our Elizabethan time.  Remember, “renaissance” is rebirth…it was a time of gaining new knowledge and technology but lots of people were still living with old technology.

Look at her cooking set up…doesn’t it look similar to one in your encampment, maybe?

Really…just put these guys in slightly different clothes and it’d work.

For the record, although I believe in presenting historical accuracy, I’m fully aware that there is a point of no return. I can’t afford to have a completely authentic clothing and occupation kit.  For example, I would love to have a reproduction spinning wheel, but it would cost thousands of dollars to get one custom made.  And given that we are in dusty, dirty, hot, rocky environments that could wreak havoc with a finely crafted tool, I’ll happily use my Ashford Saxony wheel that approximates a period design.

Learn to research your target topic by researching the history of the time period.   I researched sailing routes, maps, food and recipes, portraits, woodcuts, and garden design.  I am NOT a date specific kind of gal.  I’m more visually motivated in the way I learn.  Once I find my target area, then I start digging down and finding the dates that are appropriate.

And speaking of areas, be specific about the geographical area that you want to find research from.  A lot of “Renaissance” information is focused on the Italian Renaissance.  You might have to add “English” or “Elizabethan” or whatever country you are focusing on.

So, here come the lists!


  • Maggie Pierce Secara’s Life in Elizabethan England: A Compendium of Common Knowledge, (It’s also available in a book form if you want to hold something solid in your hand while researching.)  This lady is wonderfully helpful and approachable.  The compendium is HUGE.  (See the character building section in the appendix!!!)
  • The Society for Creative Anachronism, a place to find some specialists, Their newcomer’s page is good for our use as well once you figure out what you want to learn about,
  • Rab Taylor, Scots Wars, (Just because I care about the Scots and it’s my blog).

COMMUNITY/TRAINING  – this is a bit brief. Oh well.

  • Renaissance Productions has the Annual Renaissance Symposium,  I’ve talked about them a lot.  You can look at the old class lists/descriptions at the site
  • The old Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Northern and Southern California (even though the Novato faire is long gone, This is included as a sentimental favorite with a lot of basic info on gigs, costumes, and language…

COOKING – Try searching on “Renaissance recipes” or “Renaissance cooking” or “Renaissance food”.  You might need to insert the country where you want to find the food information.

Also I’ve been looking up “receipts” in a few cookbooks. Historical cooking and food books can be very helpful.  However, you’ll need to understand that a lot of “traditional” foods have foods introduced from the New Worlds.  Please put your thinking caps on before accepting recipes as they are presented.

  • Joanne Asala, Celtic Folklore Cooking
  • Hilary Spurling, Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book ,
  • Darina Allen, The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking (Ireland is just across the water from the area my clan comes from, so some of those old recipes would be appropriate for Scotland.)
  • Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past
  • Helen Corey, Food from Biblical Lands
  • Helen Bullock, The Williamsburg Art of Cookery or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion.
  • Gillian Riley, Renaissance Recipes
  • Reay Tannahill, Food in History
  • Jack Turner, Spice, the History of a Temptation


GARB RESEARCH MAKING/PATTERNS/SEWING – a freaking long section.  And there is a lot of info that is easy to access.  Too much.  You’ll lose hours in this stuff.

Instead of searching on “Renaissance costume”, look for “16th century clothing”.  “Garb” is preferred over “costume”.   Avoid using the word costume – it will most likely default to something that is cheap, nylon, or only good for Halloween.  Also search on actual items: trews, truis, gown, hosen, slops, chemise, arisaid, bodice, pair of bodies, Irish bog dress, etc.

I’m just going to list them – my apologies for not putting names in if I couldn’t figure out the author. 

I give up.  Too much stuff.  If you look at all of these in one day, your brain will spin.  You’re on your own now.


GARB VENDORS – Disclaimer: I have not received any favored treatment or products in return for mentioning the vendors that I talk about.  This is not an advertisement, but merely a listing of people I like.  My opinion only.

Please be aware that many vendors sell what faire patrons are looking for.  They have to make enough profit to stay in business, so they will offer products that the general faire customer will like.  This may include fantasy clothing.     You – the new Rennie- are more interested in “faire legal” clothing.  Be aware the “faire legal” varies by faire and region.  When I bought my unfortunate corduroy bodice, it was legal for vendors and general participant garb for that specific faire, but was not legal for my guild participation.

When you contact a vendor or walk into their booth, ask them specifically for “faire legal” options.  The vendors that I did this with would put on their history buff hats and pull pieces that were more in more appropriate colors, fabrics and styles.  But their suggestions are only as good as their education about the period and what people wore.  Buyer beware!!!  As I’ve said before, check with your garb officer/maven/goddess before you purchase anything.

  • Bree Fish, of Past and Peasant,  She’s my favorite vendor because I’ve met her and she shares her information and…oh, I just like her.  She was a speaker at a Ren Symposium a couple of years ago and fully understands the challenges of the faire performer (heat, hard wear, etc.)  and has a background in period clothing design, and has been involved with SCA reenactment.
  • The Wenches’ Wardrobe,, I like the lines and details.  (Just don’t wear a fancy tapestry if you’re playing a peasant.  You’ve heard my pet peeves before.)  No, I’ve not bought anything from them.  This is not an endorsement.
  • The Very Merry Seamstress,  No, I’ve not bought anything from them.  This is not an endorsement.
  • Gold River Costumes, They actually have nobles, middle class AND peasant garb.  No, I’ve not bought anything from them.  This is not an endorsement.
  • B. Coole Designs,  One of my “foster” daughters has a bodice from here and it is well built.  Been sturdy and comfy.
  • Shoes. I’m saving up for something from them.  Some of my guildmates like them.
  • Shuttle Creek Weaving, I have fondled their products…someday….(sigh).

GARB FIENDS – Yes, fiends is the correct word.


Okay people…let’s just go to the easiest list to start:

Now, you may not live in this area.  I get that.  If you aren’t in California, this list has guilds all over the place.

You might need to start from a simpler place – your favorite faire.  Go visit the reenactment guilds.  Find the one that is most interesting to you and talk to them.  It’s amazing what you can find out by talking to guild people.  Even if the first one isn’t a good fit, they might be able to direct you to one that is. 


These are the hardcore folks.  I love them.  We are such wusses compared to most of the stuff they present to patrons.  Just my opinion…don’t get your feathers ruffled. Their audience is radically different from the faire audience, so they have a different motive to be authentic.  But, possibly, could we could learn a thing or two about interacting with patrons??

Let’s give a great big hand to the people who are so obsessed with our collective hobby that they have put together a collective library for us.  Really.  Get up and cheer for these fine people.  They have saved us a boatload of work.  (Clap your hands, darn it!)

I hope that this article helps.  There are so many more places to look and dig around for things.  I still want to research gardening and agriculture and trades and occupations.  But I’ve got to get to actually preparing for faire now.  Have a good season and let’s compare notes when we meet.  Us newbies and more than newbies need to work together to share the wealth of information and make faire come alive!

To Faire!

Aunt Magaidh



  1. I liked this article. Well done.

    On CIRGA, 2008 was the year it died, officially. The web site remains and has some info as of that time, but will not be updated. Those who continue to converse among the former CIRGA guilds/members do so at the yahoo group, which should still be linked from the CIRGA web site. The main files will remain available on the mailing list, too, should Bill W. decide to take the CIRGA web site down (he owns the space it sits on). Any current info on California/west coast guilds can be found at, another Bill site.

    And if you ever want a reproduction great wheel to spin on, I know someone who had one made and she can get you in contact with the woodworker who made hers. I don’t think it was thousands of dollars, but I don’t know what agreement she worked out to get it when I know at the time she didn’t have tons of money. Remember, bartering is an option.

  2. I am in awe of your commitment and dedication. Thank you for being such a wonderful addition to our group.

  3. OOh! This looks like a blog where I can spend HOURS… Sadly, won’t have time to really read it ’til December. As a Faire and SCA “oldie” (SCA since 1979, Faire on and off since 1982), with a 40-year accumulation of those large & (sometimes) expensive books, I’m actually closer to being a “newbie” to a lot of the online info. Since I do outreach (newbie help in the SCA, and help run an SCA “guild-yard” demo booth at our local Faire), having Pinterest links for good online research is great!

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