Mark Havens is a picture framer who just happens to make Shakespearean-style shirts and jackets for himself and friends.
Frieda Paras is a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate who creates custom evening gowns and wedding dresses for a living.
Cynthia Konow is an elementary-school vice principal who packs the closet in her Riverside house with home-stitched dresses, tailored suits and evening clothes.
Two things bring this trio together--their love of things Elizabethan and the annual sewing competition at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
Each year at this time, history buffs proficient with needle and thread re-create the sartorial splendor of the 16th Century. Having spent months making Elizabethan clothing, they wear their creations to the faire, open every weekend from mid-April through June 6 at Glen Helen Regional Park, near San Bernardino. Havens, Paras and Konow have been competitors, repeat winners and judges in the event; this year, though, 75 other amateur costume makers competed for a $1,000 sewing machine.
Until other commitments slowed him down, Havens, who commutes to the faire from San Jose each weekend, made a new outfit every year. He regularly haunts Bay Area fabric stores, searching for bargains on linens, wools, cottons and silks. One spectacular find: a wool-and-silk brocade marked down from $34 to $9 a yard that he fashioned into a suit with doublet and breeches that Sir Walter Raleigh might have worn.
Havens says he can envision the completed garment while the fabric is still on the bolt. "It's like Mozart. He could hear music in his head."
Both he and Paras have done costume research in England. Havens studied the finer points of ruffs, the accordion-pleated collars that once encircled the necks of noble men and women, and Paras concentrated on Elizabethan dresses, with their lace-up, corset-like bodices and layers of petticoats.
A gown Paras made two years ago for the faire's star, Elizabeth I, included 15 yards of gold brocade encrusted with faux pearls, rhinestones and amethyst beads. Few of the queen's contemporaries could compete with that, Paras says, and those who tried to dress beyond their social station were taxed under sumptuary law.
Paras' interest shows in the evening and wedding wear she makes in her North Hollywood studio. Dismissing modern styles as "only a few seams," she says the extravagant Elizabethan garments offer romance and intrigue. Never mind the tight bodices and cumbersome petticoats.
"Who needs comfort when you look so good?" she quips.
Konow, who became infatuated with Renaissance fashions as a child after watching Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of "Romeo and Juliet," is also a stickler for authenticity. She has made it her mission to learn such endangered handicrafts as corsetry, quilting and lace-making--and to apply them to the costumes she wears to the faire.
Her most recent creation is a dress in deep-green pinwale corduroy with metallic-looking trim and a black velveteen lining.
Attending to details--right down to period underwear--is relaxing, she says. "I have a stressful job, and when I don't do this I get grumpy."