TL;DR: I didn’t win, and that’s okay.
Background: I entered this competition thinking that I probably wouldn’t win, and I didn’t. In fact, I actually did much worse than I expected to, and it would be easy to feel discouraged, but instead I’m going to see what I can learn from my feedback so I can do better next time. I’ve entered a lot of A&S competitions and I’ve also judged a lot of A&S competitions so I hope my insights will give you more information on what to expect when you enter an A&S competition!
Alluring Mummy Outfit
Category: Historically informed
Display & Oral Presentation: 7/10. If you are entering a garment, always always have the person wear it that it was made for, whether that’s you or someone else. Otherwise, your judges may be able to tell how good of a seamstress you are (do your seams look nice, etc.) but they will not be able to tell how good of a tailor you are (does the thing you made fit the person you made it for and does it match the period silhouette).
Other than wearing my garment or having the person I made it for wear it, I am actually not that confident about displaying my projects and I think next time I need to put more effort into working with a friend who will not be judging in order to brainstorm and implement ideas for a good display.
Feedback on my oral presentation was that I moved well through the 5 “w”s, I had a good pace and I spoke clearly and confidently. I have to admit that I always feel flustered and disorganized when I’m doing my oral presentation, no matter how many times I’ve gone through it in my head first, and I’m always convinced that I’ve left out a bunch of pertinent information. I talked to HL Adelheid about this after the competition and she told me she uses cue cards, which I think is a practice I’m going to adopt.
The other feedback I had on my oral presentation was that I was able to field difficult questions and was not defensive. This can sometimes be a challenge for candidates during oral presentation, but remember that the judges are not there to try and trick you or trip you up. The judges want to test your knowledge and at least half the time when I’m asking questions as a judge I’m just genuinely curious about the answer. If you think of it as though you are teaching a class to students instead of presenting to judges, that is the kind of tone you want to aim for. If you don’t know the answer, do not be afraid to say that you don’t know.
Documentation: 7/10. The format of the competition limited each candidate to one page of documentation per entry, and this was a limitation that every entrant I spoke to struggled with. It’s honestly pretty difficult to fit all of the information you need to get across into one page, and for this project I achieved the one page fit only by shrinking the margins and using a 9 point font.
I organized my documentation in a tabular format, with columns for “element”, “period approach”, “my approach”, and “reason for variation from period”. This assisted me in getting across most of the information in one page that I’d taken about 8 pages to say in full sentences and paragraphs. As well as my documentation, I actually took a printout of the blog post I based my table on (you can read it here). I got two kinds of feedback on my tabular documentation format. Many judges said it was great and easy to follow; some said it looked like I had been lazy and put it together in half an hour. I had, in fact, been lazy and put it together in half an hour, and I did not include any in-line references in my text to my sources, either in the documentation or in the original blog post. I should definitely have included references, and although I had a printout of my blog post with works cited at the end, and I had physical copies in my display of all the works I cited, judge feedback suggests I should have had my bibliography on a separate page as well.
I spoke to my Laurel after the competition about the tabular format of the documentation. Despite the positive feedback I received this time about its organization, she said she usually sees tabular documentation do worse than essay format documentation. Given this, assuming there was no page limit on the documentation, next time I think I would try for essay format.
Technical Ability: 7/10. Each of the judges identified different aspects of the project as the target of their evaluation of my technical ability. One judge noted that the paucity of extant pieces meant I had to rely heavily on conjecture, leading to a higher score in technical ability. Another noted that in the construction of the costume I had only used very simple cutting and stitching techniques, leading to a lower score in technical ability. When I was thinking about the project and what it was, it felt clear in my mind that the abilities I used in the project included not just the actual construction but also the conjecture based on similar sources as to how the project could look. I think that what I could have done differently here was to be more clear about what I thought the project was.
As an aside, I am often asked to judge costuming entries, and there is inevitably that one co-judge who goes “oh, well, it’s just sewing” when evaluating how the candidate has done. You’ll note I made a distinction between seamstresses and tailors above, and what I’m looking for when I’m judging a costuming entry is not just how nice your stitching is, but also how much of the pattern you designed yourself, how well your pattern fits your model, and how much your garment looks like and uses the same processes as a period garment.
One judge noted it would be nice to see me self-produce more of the outfit, leading to a lower score in technical ability. I think this is a fair assessment, I had used many purchased or bartered elements and it would be a nice stretch for me into new skill sets to weave my own belts, make my own boots, and felt my own hat.
Finally, due to the length that I cut my fabric, I was only able to comfortably wear it draped over one shoulder instead of two as evidence suggested was appropriate. Several judges noted this as an area for improvement in my technical ability, and I have to agree with them.
Authenticity: 6/10, though one judge awarded 9/10. This reinforced my impression that in order to really excel at my Tarim Basin entries, I need to start weaving my own fabric. It’s usually possible to find fabric that has approximately the same characteristics that it would have in Renaissance Florence (which had a really notable fabric industry), but the further back in time you go, the harder it is to find modern fabrics that are anything like what you should be working with. I mean, actually I’m pretty excited to start learning how to weave and maybe also dye my own cloth.
Bonus: I actually got several bonus points on this project. The judges thought it was interesting that I was doing a very different project from a very early time period, and wanted to encourage experimental archaeology. I was questioned on the very early date of this project, and whether it was appropriate for the SCA, but for quite some time now there has been no beginning date limit on the SCA, which means we can have all the cool ancient stuff like Romans, Egyptians, Scythians, and Tocharians!
Tarim Basin style flatbread
Category: Historically inspired (aka an SCA-ism). I had originally intended to enter two historically informed items, but when I saw that my judges in my second slot were all culinary gurus I decided to take shameless advantage of their expertise and get some feedback on a food entry instead. This was my very first culinary entry ever! It was a historically inspired rather than informed entry because my culinary goal is to make gluten-free and vegan forms of period dishes.
Display & Oral Presentation: Mostly 6/10, one 4/10. Unfortunately most of my judges on this entry did not provide much feedback to indicate why they chose these marks. I’ll note again like I said before that I feel my display game could improve and that I plan to use cue cards to assist my oral presentation next time. One judge noted I could include a display of the ingredients I used, which is a good idea. I’m in frequent social contact with most of my judges and I think I might try to get some in-person feedback about how they thought I could have improved in this category.
Documentation: Ranged from 5/10 to 8/10. Again I had tried to condense my prior blog post (here) into a one page chart, so my comments are much the same as for the previous entry. In a way there was a lot less for me to say here; I didn’t do a ton of research on what the period materials and processes were because I knew I was going to do it a totally different way anyway. I think the score range was fair given the amount of effort I put into the project.
Technical Ability: 7/10. The old category of “complexity” has partially been collapsed into this category, and the majority of feedback in this category was that the recipe was very simple. Due to site constraints, I wound up serving the bread cold and one day old, when gluten-free bread and yeast-risen flatbreads generally are much nicer hot out of the oven. I think it’s worth experimenting whether I could bake them on site in a toaster oven. Or, even better, if I could bake them on site at a camping event in a portable oven like Mistress Maiosara told us the Scythians had 😀 I’ve also been informed by Tomas, who does a lot of culinary entries, that judges are often looking at taste in this category, and gluten-free bread is notoriously not the same taste or texture as wheat bread. As a spin-off from discussions about this category, Alice suggested that maybe I should look at period Chinese recipes (which are more likely to be gluten- and lactose-free) instead of period European recipes, which sounds like a tasty, tasty rabbit hole.
Authenticity: Mostly 4/10. This was a really tricky category and I don’t envy the judges, because we entrants were told we could (or should) enter a historically inspired piece, but the judges don’t seem to have been given alternate judging criteria for the historically inspired pieces. Judges noted that given the change in ingredients, I had made a good speculative reconstruction and my final product fit the minimal available information about period finds. If I’d wanted to improve my score in this category and move up to a historically informed piece, I think I would have been relying a lot on the insights of Tomas de Courcy and Baroness Brangwayn, both of whom have done a lot of really high level culinary entries.
Bonus: I got a variety of bonus marks here too. Some were presented without comment, some were awarded for gluten-free experimentation, but my favorite comment, reproduced here in its entirety, was, “I can eat this without dying! Woo hoo!”
Okay, after having gone through all of my comments and stuff, I actually feel a whole lot better about the competition, and I feel like I have a clear way ahead to improve for next time. In the past, I have actually given all of my scoring sheets to my Laurel and then she reads me the comments that she thinks are constructive, and I don’t get to see the numbers at all. I kind of wish I had done that this time, some of the numbers were a real blow to my ego, and the next time I enter a competition I’m going to get my Laurel or another trusted friend to go back to this practice so I don’t have to see all those numbers that are less than 80%. Because your real goal in entering an A&S competition should not be winning, you should be focusing on getting your work known and looking for ideas from your judges and fellow competitors that can help you get even better as an artisan. So: go forth and enter A&S competitions, and if you need someone to read your judging sheets out to you and censor out the numbers, you know where to find me!