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Medieval Fair Sewing Bee Bonds Cast Members

For many years, the Medieval Fair has been one of the staple cultural events offered by University Outreach. Reaching into and beyond the Norman community, it is a unique educational venue where students, families and other members of the local community come to enjoy good food, performances, and activities that bring to life the historical texture of medieval Europe.

The Medieval Fair entails not only the annual three-day event on March 30, 2012. In addition, several satellite events occur year-round. They include the Medieval Fair Lecture series, in which OU professors provide free lectures that contextualize life in medieval times for the general public. Also held are events for medieval cast members who perform at the fair. These events range from those that audition volunteers for roles such as members of the royal court and villagers to events that develop the performers’ improvisational skills and knowledge of medieval culture and history.

The performer-centric events are designed to prepare cast members to bring medieval characters to life for the enjoyment of people visiting the fair with confidence and authenticity. But they are also meant to be fun for the performers themselves, like the Medieval Fair Sewing Bee, which took place on Sunday, October 30, at the Forum Building. Started by a stable of Medieval Fair performers, the Arthurian Order of Avalon, the Sewing Bee was an all-day event where fair cast members gathered to conceptualize, design and make the authentic medieval attire that they will wear when they participate in the fair next spring.

“There are some companies that offer medieval era clothing, but not many,” said Ann Marie Eckart, Medieval Fair coordinator. “It’s not easy to buy the kind of clothing the performers need. Usually, in that case, you would spend five times what it would cost to make it yourself. So we have sewing bees where the performers gather in a room with sewing machines, ironing boards, irons, patterns, and fabrics. Everyone makes the costuming that they need to perform at the fair.”

Sewing bee participants select their clothing patterns from a thick book, Patterns for Theatrical Costumes by Katherine Strand Holkeboer. After selecting patterns, the performers then photocopy the pattern pages from the text onto a transparency. The transparency is then placed on an overhead projector and projected large, allowing the performers to trace their patterns onto craft paper. The pattern and fabric are then cut out, pinned, basted and fitted for the performers, ready to be worn as an authentic-looking medieval costume.

While the Sewing Bee’s chief aim was to produce the attire needed to project and recreate the look and feel of the past, Eckart suggested that other, less tangible benefits were just as important — the Sewing Bee was about building rapport between the performers that they will carry into the spring performance.

“Along with the fun and excitement of creating something new, what made this event fun was the camaraderie and the building of friendships as we built the costumes and learned each other’s skillsets. It even went above and beyond what I expected in terms of people jumping in and helping those with less experience,” Eckart said.

Eckart, who participated in the Medieval Fair as a volunteer, performer, and vendor for 20 years before becoming the event coordinator, explained that there was a quality about the bonding that occurred between the performers that served as a microcosm of the most positive part of Medieval Fair as a community pastime.

“The fair is educational; it engages the community, bringing together amazing artists from all over the country that you would not see anywhere else,” Eckart said. “Of course, people come to the fair to have fun, to eat a turkey leg and some roasted corn, but they also learn something in the process, and they get exposed to amazing artwork and culture.”

Further information about the Medieval Fair can be found at

Written by Michael Carter.

Pictured L-R: Nancy Blass, Jeff Bowden, and Carrie Bowden.

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