Saturday, September 7, 2013

Profile in Excellence Vicky Binns

Vicky Binns of Aquerna Fabricae
Special thanks to the National Trust.-VB

One of the greatest pleasures I receive from Modern Medievalist Community page on Facebook, has been the number of people I have met and become friends with. People who, in any other time frame other than now, I would not have had the pleasure of talking to. My series "Profiles in Excellence" is my way of paying back those wonderfully talented and generous people. Vicky Binns  is one such person. I find in this new millennium, it is becoming harder, and harder to find  someone who is genuinely nice, and honest. Vicky Binns is both. On top of that, she has been very generous with her time, explaining clothing designs to a man who knows little of fashion from the XIV and XV Centuries.

Some of you who follow this blog have seen her handiwork, in a previous post about her Fiancee' Matthew Bayley. I thought then as I do now, Vicky Binns deserved her own profile. I approached her with the idea and the resulting conversation is the basis of this posting.
XV Century Houppelande as made by Vicky Binns of  Aquerna Fabricae
Inspired by the 1430's Ghent Altar Piece.
Special thanks to Cardiff Castle Staff for the opportunity
to take photos on the grounds.-VB

Q: Vicky Binns where are you from?

A:  I’m a 23 year old Historical Costumier from a town called Chesham in the county of Buckinghamshire, England, UK. Chesham has a very multi-cultural population, particularly Pakistani, Indian, Polish and Chinese, which has had a significant influence on my lifestyle, tastes and inspiration.

Secondary view of XV Century Houppelande made by Vicky Binns
of Aquerna Fabricae. Inspired by the 1430's Ghent Altar Piece.
Special thanks to the Greyfriar's House and Staff.-VB

Q: What are your qualifications? Did you go to design/art school?

A: I have a 2:1 BA in Historical Archaeology from the University of York, UK, with the ambition to take an MA in Conservation and specialize in Textiles eventually. The ultimate dream would be to preserve and conserve textiles somewhere like the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Snowshill Collection or the Pitt Rivers Museum! I come from a matriarchal bloodline of seamstresses, knitters, crocheters and bobbin lace makers. Textile craft has been a foundation for my career, both taught and self-taught.

Q: Explain the name of your business please.

A: The name of my business is Aquerna Fabricae, which in Latin literally means “Squirrel Makings”. I have a love for Squirrels – especially the native British red squirrel! It seems apt that just as red squirrels are a species being conserved to save it, the ethic behind my textile skills is the aim to pass on and conserve something for future generations.

Photo by Stewart E. of the Guardian.

Q: What was it that attracted you to medieval reenactment, and how did you translate those experiences into clothing manufacturing?

My immersion into medieval re-enactment started with a silver smithing and enamelling after-school club. The club leaders were members of a medieval display group and spoke of weekends camping at Castles and sword fighting... how could I resist?

Every year we’d join in the Battle of Tewkesbury as Lancastrian troops. Here I encountered my fiancĂ© Matthew for the first time as a Yorkist and we hit it off exactly three years ago! As it happens he’s an armourer, bronze caster and jeweller.

Late XV Century Paletot. White on White Damask, Red Silk Velvet, with Yellow/Gold
Applique Letters, with Gold Fringe Trim.
Motto: Crom Mabo! Crom Forever.

Post-university jobs were scarce for UK graduates. With the encouragement of an already self employed Matt, family and the Princes Trust Enterprise Scheme I moved to live with him in Worcester, Midlands, launching Aquerna Fabricae.

Handmade White Chaperon of fine Hainsworth Wool, with
Leafy dagging.

I wanted historical costume being produced to a high standard. I’d already seen Kats Hats trade and flourish making renowned medieval headdresses, and that gave me courage.

Ghent Altarpiece Inspired Burgundian Houppelande Gown. Every object in the photo
has been manufactured by Aquerna Fabricae in conjunction with Bayley Heritage Castings.
The dress, the belt/girdle/the purse.

I am constantly inspired by and aspiring to reenactors like Caroline Blake and her Mum Anne. They research and reproduce their clothing to the point that they grow plants for dyeing in the garden, hand spin, naturally dye embroidery threads, research, making the costumes and hand embroider them. It’s a lifetime’s devotion!

1430's Ghent Altarpiece. This is a detail shot
of the Erythraean Sibyl.

Q: How long does it take for you to take a commission from design to finished product?

A: Anywhere from two weeks to a year; every commission is different which I love! I take plenty of time to research and let ideas evolve. The design and patterning stage is key. I don’t always have the opportunity to do fittings on the actual customers though, some of my clients are in the US who found me through Etsy. Their responses have been positive so far, so I must be doing something right. All of this can take just as long as the actual final production of the garment.
Hand embroidered wide girdle; black silk covering, couched gold work embroidery with red and green silk thread, quality freshwater pearls and red silk applique.

Q: How close to historical tailoring models do you use? Meaning do you hand stitch everything or do you machine stitch those portions of a garment that will not be seen?

A: Most of the time my clients have a budget limit, so I tend to machine the unseen and hand stitch the seen. However I can completely hand stitch. There’s something about taking techniques back to their roots that is infinitely personal. No two people hand stitch exactly the same way and it feels like a little fingerprint of my soul every time.

Once upon a time... 

Q: What type of material do you use in your clothing? Do you try to keep as period as possible. (You and I know that Cotton or Fustian was available in the XV Century. However it was expensive.) So... Do you use Linens or Flax Cloth, Wool? Please tell of your efforts to use period material...

A: I use 100% wool's, linens and silks from traders – for reliability, accuracy and sustainability. They ‘hang’ in a very particular manner (just take a look at effigies) and are more comfortable than synthetics for large gowns and cotes. The linens come from Ireland and Germany and I get British wool. British sheep farmers have suffered from our recent harsh winter snows. To me it’s about supporting the present local economy, just as much as being true to the past.

Of course it’s not always possible to get all-natural damasks and brocades, Sometimes the pattern of a fabric takes priority, so I do occasionally use synthetics and linen-cotton mixes. Been looking for true silk velvet too – usually at least 100% silk pile, adding that sumptuous authenticity to an outfit!

Girdle made by Aquerna Fabricae and Bayley Heritage Castings.
Worn by Lady Kyle at the 2013 Arundel Historical Tournament
at Arundel Castle.
(c) Stephen Moss.

Q: Simply because I know you and Matthew, I know you have combined forces somewhat and he makes belt fittings, closures and purse frames for you and your clients. Briefly describe the business relationship and the research both of you put in to creating a product.

A: Sometimes a client’s request is simply a variant on an already existing product. However if more is involved we work like Sherlock and Watson. Matt is Sherlock; mentally sharp and efficient at research, so although we both do a lot of research individually he usually spots the gems. He does most of the artistic drawing. I’m Watson, handling the domestic side, sorting the presentation for faires, keeping us on the straight and narrow and on target for time.

Custom Girdle made by Aquerna Fabricae with eyelet and belt fittings by
Bayley Heritage Castings.

There’s no real boss (although I can be bossy) and we have learnt that there’s rarely a right or wrong way, simply some methods are more efficient than others! If things don’t go to plan we make a cup of tea (or coffee), eat some cake and go back to the drawing board.

Research-wise we collect and share from a variety of sources, even if they don’t seem initially relevant. Sometimes it’s a chat with a fellow crafts person or experimental reenactor. If there is a trader with better suited skills, we point in their direction. Most importantly we’re honest about it – if we genuinely don’t know, we freely admit it. After all, there is so much that remains a mystery about medieval history to us and that for many is part of its appeal.

Vicky Binns and Fiancee' Mathew Bayley
of Aquerna Fabricae and Bayley Heritage Castings respectively
(c) Zoey Smith.

For a more detailed explanation of the above photo: Late fourteenth to early fifteenth century, working middle class dress: Vicky (left) is wearing a cote in madder red wool lined with linen from English effigies (linen kirtle and chemise underneath), a narrow girdle, white linen apron, head coif, neckerchief and silver necklace; Matthew (right) is wearing a parti-colour wool coat with a wide belt, fairly fitted hose, felted wool cap with a leather men's purse in hand.

I would once more like to thank Vicky Binns for her patience and most of her time. This has been a lovely romp through another person's hard earned knowledge and expertise. I wish all the best for Vicky and Matthew with their upcoming nuptials.

Aquerna Fabricae can be found at:

Bayley Heritage Castings can be found at:

1 comment: