An Introduction to the Renaissance Faire


With my last post for class in July 2011, the faire season began, and I abandoned this project.  Now as the long winter months set in, my thoughts have once again turned toward the coming faire season.  I hope to start working on this blog again as my family, faire friends, and I start working toward the 2012 season.

174 Days and counting!

Meanwhile….following are a few pictures from 2011

I never did find the right lace to finish this shift. Oh well!

A different look for me….calling this persona, “Grandma Storyteller.” I doubt she’ll make another appearance at faire.

Another summer look.

Southern Ohio in October 2011

With my sister (wearing one of her previously mentioned works of art) and brother-in-law

GLMF gang invading the Pittsburgh Faire in Sept 2011


To my classmates in Jill Michaels’s Digital Storytelling class at SUNY/Empire State:

It has been a pleasure working with all of you, and I have enjoyed getting to know you through the various projects we have worked on over the last few months.  Best wishes for everyone as you complete your degrees!  Maybe our paths will cross in another semester.

Have a great summer! And be sure to check out the “Find a Faire” link on the right of this page, to find out if there is a faire near you that you can visit this summer or fall.

Have Caravan–Will Travel!

Matt & Tracie, making their debut in Avaloch (2007)

I am a single woman, but I’m very fortunate that my sister and her husband, who share my love of faire, live about two miles away.  Matt and Tracie own a Dodge Caravan, which I nicknamed “The Faire-A-Van” due to its popularity among our family and local faire friends.  Matt and Tracie are generous enough to extend the invitation to ride with them whenever they are heading to faire.  More than the convenience of having a designated driver, it’s just nice to have friends who appreciate and share the excitement of faire.

Our local faire is about 1 hour, 40 minutes away, so it is a bit of a trip.  We drive up to Geneva and back most every Saturday and Sunday during the six weeks of faire.  Additionally, we usually try to plan 1-2 trips to other faires each year.  The Pittsburgh faire is just over 2 hours away from us, and the Southern Ohio faire is about a 3-hour drive; both run into the fall season, several weeks after the performers and vendors of Avaloch have packed up their wares and moved on.

Traveling to other faires gives us the opportunity to meet up with our friends from Avaloch, friends we might not get to see otherwise until the following season.  The revelry of faire travel finds us reuniting with one another in the rather mundane setting of parking lots, and may include tailgating, getting into garb, meet and greet, and various other shenanigans.

Following are some such moments that we have captured over the last few years:

Parking Lot Pirate



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Once Upon A Time….

Keeping this blog has stirred in me the memory of my very first experience with faire.  The year was 1993, and the faire was one of the originals, the California Pleasure Faires, established in 1962….

Stepping through the main gate of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire is like stepping back in time. Faire-goers become participants as they are beckoned by living history actors to join the revelry in Chipping-Under-Oakwood, a fictitious shire of Elizabethan England.  Comely wenches crowd the windows above the gate and try to entice those below to join them. Inside the boundaries of the gate is an overwhelming array of peasants, nobles, and merchants all interacting without ever stepping out of character.  A group of tiresome Puritans linger just inside the gate, warning participants of the evils awaiting them in the shire.  Strolling through the main fairway are the diverse citizens representative of another place and time.  There are jugglers and jesters, Shakespearian actors, magicians, visiting Scots, and the occasional madman. The background atmosphere contributes to the feeling of belonging to another time.  There is the constant jingling of bells worn around waistlines, on wrists, and on ankles.  Merchants cry out, hawking their wares. “Fresh straw-BER-ries!” one might call in a distinctive sing-song.  “Wrap your lips around our sausages,” taunts another, with devilish innuendo.  Refreshment stands are plentiful and meade (a type of wine made with honey) and ale are available to those over twenty-one.  Perhaps a great deal of spirits are consumed, contributing to the air of reckless abandon that seems to grow as the day progresses.

Other groups have set up on some of the paths that branch off the main road.  There are several stages including one for the ever-popular “Manly Men In Tights” revue.  There are also other forms of entertainment such as jousting, hawking, games of skill and chance, mazes, fencing, and even a few rides.  The latter includes wooden ponies on a manual carousel for the children and a large swing pushed by two young cavaliers.  The swing is a favorite of the maiden girls.  It will seat four or five, and the men who push it tend to charm the girls with outlandish flattery and quick banter intended to bring a blush to a maiden’s cheek.

A more remote path leads to “The End of the World,” a quiet hillside that marks one of the fair’s boundaries and is less populated.  It is here that one might find a fortune-teller or a group of dancing gypsies.  The rhythm of drums and flutes and the scent of burning incense fill the air.  Toward the end of the day the Queen’s Processional winds its way through the faire and it’s hard not to get caught up in the fantasy that is the Renaissance Faire.  I remember timing my curtsy at just the right moment as Her Majesty passed, lowering my head respectfully then rising to the Queen’s praise. “Well met, good mistress,” she called to me as she passed.

My heart quickened, and for a moment I felt as if I had truly been graced by the approval of Queen Elizabeth I herself…


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Adult Entertainment or Family Friendly?

My youngest daughter and I, heading out to faire together as gypsies

There are two sides to most faires.  The majority of the entertainment and interaction is definitely family friendly, with the usual storytellers, playgrounds, harmless pirates, and other activities appropriate for kids of all ages.  A faire-goer looking for a little devilish fun will not be disappointed, however.  Bawdy comments and risque innuendo are sure to be found by those with an eye and an ear for it.  Much of this type interaction will sail harmlessly over the heads of the youngest patrons, the wide-eyed kids who may think they have stumbled into a fairy land. 

My niece (left) and daughter (right) enjoying an afternoon at faire

Those with kids in the 11-17 age group should be warned that there can be quite a lot of “PG-13” material at a faire, and this group will definitely get the jokes.  Shows with racy content are always identified as such, so that wary parents can steer clear.

Here are some examples of PG-13 shows you might catch at a faire: The Duelists: The Manly Art of the Epic Duel (Renaissance Stayle) Broon: Juggler, Fire Eater, Insulter Extroidenairre The Washing Well Wenches: Good Clean Fun, Wet Dirty Women

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I Sew, Therefore I Am…

…a “Rennie,” that is.

Me (on the left) and my sister at the Great Lakes Medieval Faire, in garb we made ourselves.

OK, sewing is definitely not a requirement to become a Rennie, a Playtron, a lover of faire.  Fortunately for those less skilled with the use of needle and thread, there are plenty of vendors willing to help you get dressed in Medieval or Renaissance garb.  (See the links at the end of this post for just a sampling.)  But in my experience, the ability to visualize and create my own wardrobe has certainly enhanced the whole faire experience.  For me, the compliments are far more satisfying when I can reply, “I made it myself.”

Not to mention the economic savings.  Garb can be quite pricey from vendors–and they deserve the price they ask, as there is a great deal of hand work that goes into a project.  Some of the more elaborate, upper-class garb contains a great deal of beadwork, embroidery, and/or trim, and such a gown or doublet can easily take 50 or more hours to complete.  When you buy from a vendor, keep in mind the hours they might have spent lovingly creating your unique garb.  But for those of us with the time to work on our garb throughout the “off-season,” the payoff is a significant savings.  For simple peasant or “wench-wear,” an entire outfit can generally be created in about 10 hours with somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-50 for material.  For nobility, there is easily ten times the work and cost involved in a complete outfit.

Another picture of me (2nd from left) and my sister (far right) in garb we made for faire.

Which explains why you will find me in some type of lower-class garb.  My sister makes her own upper-class gowns and bodices; they are quite beautiful works of art, and I admire her skill and patience in creating them.  Admiration, however, does not imply envy.  Once I am in the heat and dust–or conversely, the mud and rain–of faire, drinking a few mugs of ale (some of which inevitably gets spilled on my garb), I am completely satisfied that I do not have to worry about stains.  The spilled ale and dirt around my skirt hems just add to the authenticity of my garb, I often tell my friends.  You know, 400 years ago, laundry and bath items were considered a luxury, after all!

To Garb or Not To Garb?

With the exception of my bodice and shirt (I’m on the far left), the rest of our garb was all bought from vendors.

Now, that is the question.  Again, definitely not a requirement to attend faire.  After reading my thoughts on buying and sewing clothes for faire, an uninitiated patron may think it is simply not worth the effort.  Should you decide to visit your local faire, you may decide to attend in your comfortable street clothes.  Of course, you are welcome to do so.  And you will blend in with the numerous other patrons who are attending in street clothes as well.

But I cannot stress enough to you how much your willingness to be more than a patron, to become a participant, enhances the whole experience of faire.  I always point out to my faire-virgin friends that there is an easy compromise: dress in the “spirit” of faire.  Think hippie/boho/shabby chic: long, flowing skirts, peasant blouses, gauzy fabrics, sandals, scarves, bangles, and all things that dangle and jingle.  If you can’t find any of this type of garb in your closet, I guarentee you can find some on a shoestring budget at your local thrift store.

Links to some of my favorite vendors:

Modeling my Moresca bodice

Photos of some of my garb:

I don’t know why but all of my shifts are missing, so I am displaying these outfits with shirts I found at thrift stores. Also, I want to clarify that these are not intended to be historical representations of clothing actually worn.  Click on each photo to see detail.  Left to right, they are:

Bellydance garb–I made the bodice, but all other pieces came from various faires.

Merchant class garb–Except for the shirt, I designed and made this complete outfit, including the hat with the Sharpie-tinted plume.

Romany garb–Again, except for the shirt, all my own design.

Pirate wench garb–The hat from the Blonde Swan (link above), shirt from a thrift store, and the rest is all my own.  This is a fun “alternate personality” look, because it gives me permission to strut with a manly gait and carry a sword.

Gypsy princess garb–This is probably my favorite look for faire.  I designed and made the skirt and bodice but the rest has been pieced together either from thrift store finds or faire vendors.

The last picture features a couple of projects I am currently working on.  The bodice on the left is actually a Moresca (link above), displayed against one of my skirts just to try to set it off.  I am making a green shift and scroll skirt to go with this, but I’m not sure it will be ready to premier when my faire opens in July.  (What was I thinking when I signed up for a summer class??)  On the right side of this photo are some pieces of fabric that I have purchased for my “some day” chest of projects.  The striped fabric in the background is a very nice printed gauze that was $1/yard at Wal-Mart, and that’s a steal!  The floral fabric against that is a boxy and extremely garish ladies jacket, I’m guessing circa 1972-ish, which I found at a thrift store for a couple of dollars.  I hope to use small pieces of this fabric in a new bodice.  Some day.  The striped square of fabric is from a home dec remnant, which is a great way to pick up pieces of coordinating and contrasting fabrics to finish various projects.

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World Beats

Patsheeva by eMuzeki

Circa Paleo

One of the best reasons to attend a Renaissance Faire is to be entertained by a unique sampling of music from various cultures around the world and throughout history.  The primal beat of drums entice listeners to become dancers, and fairegoers become swept up in the sounds of distant times and lands.

Axel the Sot

Terry Griffith, aka “The Irish Troubadour”

Browse the links posted here for just a small sampling of the talent you might experience at a Renaissance Faire.

Cast In Bronze is the world’s first and only traveling carillon bell performer, and something truly amazing to experience live–like no other performer you’ve ever heard.

All photos this entry copyright by Diane Dreier; used by kind permission.



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