Monday, May 15, 2017

Growth and new research replacing old

My SCA kingdom, Artemisia, is gearing up for its 20th Anniversary this June. My favorite event locally, Arrows Flight's Toys for Tots,is also celebrating its 20th Birthday this year in November. The wave of nostalgia has me looking at my own SCA history. I originally began playing the summer I graduated high school in 1991. I happened to start in exactly the place I now live, and Arrows Flight was a Canton. I had spent the previous summer costuming shows for the Park City Shakespeare Festival and I thought myself very knowledgeable about the 16th Century.That summer I played recorder with a group of musicians, fought rapier with foils, and made a dress out of old table cloths. It was exactly what I was looking for and I wished it would never end. Seventeen is a very silly age, but oh so very magical.

When I left for college, I hoped to continue doing SCA stuff, but the local group had been going through a lot of political things and there wasn't a group to join. As I was broke, didn't have a car, and very, very young, I didn't realize I could have kept playing even without a local group. I reached out a couple of times to see about getting a group going, played with the incipient Shire of Ard Ruadh when I could get down to St. George (and they existed,) costumed for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, got a B.S. in history, played recorder and sang with friends who were alumnus of Renaissance Ensemble, played with the local Empire of Chivalry and Steel group when it cropped up, hung out at the Ren Faire, began researching Elizabethan Sumptuary Law and built the perfect garage for a Scadian with all kinds of hobbies and skills and the accompanying equipment.

Then my husband got a job up on the Wasatch Front and we were able to move north where there were active groups playing in the SCA. I jumped in with both feet almost a decade ago and haven't looked back. Seems like it is about time to do that, I guess. Evaluating progress is a useful tool for making future plans. This seems like a great time to create some focus for myself.

With that idea in mind, I pulled out my oldest major project; the gold coif I embroidered. It is based on an extant piece in a private collection. It also happens to be the cover image for Mary Gostelow's book Blackwork. Originally published in 1976, the book is usually pushed as the beginning book for historical blackwork. This was even more true 10 years ago when I was doing my research and there weren't as many other options.

I was displeased with the research flaws and problems with this coif, even before I finished it, However,  it is still something I am proud of. It is a beautiful, wearable piece of art as it is as well as being a case study in where mistakes can be made. All in all, it seems to be the perfect project for me to re-do as a growth project. I consider research to be my major art and I have certainly improved in that respect. The resources for materials and information have vastly changed, and so has my actual embroidery ability. I'm excited to do a better version of it.

I am starting with Jacqui Carey's book, Elizabethan Stitches, where this coif is case study 19, and laying out the embroidery pattern today. Better scale, more appropriate materials, and the correct stitches are the first changes. in the works.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Impossible Feast: An idea

My SCA persona's motto is AT SPES INFRACTA (Yet, hope is unbroken) and I have a thing for flying pigs and the idea of making the impossible possible. I was looking through Facebook memories this morning and in 2014 I had seen an advertisement for Pig Wings, ribs that look like chicken wings. Rather than saying cool and moving one, my response was to go through a list of idioms of improbability and assign them dishes. This type of hyperbole taken to extreme lengths is called an adynata from the Greek ἀδύνατον  meaning both unable/ impossible and "to be powerful." It was a common Classical Period rhetorical device translated into Latin as impossibilia.  It fits well with my ancient Greek name of Praxilla which gives me further reasons to adore the idea. It would even make a fabulous conceit for a sixteenth century Venetian salon. Thus, I'm putting it here so I don't lose it.

An impossible feast to be served with blue moon cocktails and presented on the Greek kalends (Kalends are Roman. . .).

When pigs fly: pork ribs shaped like wings, or bacon wrapped poultry

When it snows red snowflakes: Strawberries in snow would be a very historical option

When grapes/pears grow on the willow tree: Willow catkins can be mashed and eaten. Willow honey is a thing. Perhaps baked pears drizzled in willow honey? Grapes could also be iced and served in a willow basket. Or wine is always a possibility

When fish climb the poplar tree: Salmon smoked on poplar. Poplar is also a popular paper wood, so paperwrapped fish of some kind might be tasty.

When the moon turns to green cheese: Mmm, cheese wheel

If the sky falls we shall catch larks: Plenty of Roman lark recipes. Adapt to use chicken or game hen

When the calves are dancing on the ice: Perhaps some variant of steak tartare?

When cows fly: Should be as straightforward as the winged pigs

When salt glows: There are lots of lovely pink Himilayan salt lamps and plates. Something served on those.

Cold Hell: No idea what to make, but its a fabulous name for a dish

More idioms to play with:

When the cow goes on pilgrimage on its horns
when the flagpole blossoms
When the reed plant blossoms
When the apricot blooms
When poplars grow pears and willows wallflowers
When the crawfish whistles on the mountain and fish sing
A week with three Thursdays
When horses grow horns
When a horned cat walks by
When a beard grows in the palm of my hand
When frogs grow hair
When the owl's tail blooms
When the crow will fly upside down
Sooner the cactus grow on my palm

And just because it is so very, very specific to my persona and personal likes, this Bulgarian phrase has to be included:  koga se pokači svinja s z´´lti čehli na krusa (when the pig in yellow slippers climbs the pear tree

Monday, February 27, 2017

Wool on Wool Applique: part 1.

I took a class on the subject of wool on wool applique at Estrella War taught by Bernadette de Costa Tempestad and when I posted the resulting make and take, I got mobbed with requests to share the handout. There was not a handout as such, so this is a compilation of notes. The instructor had some great references, and I have a few more I have from my own applique classes. Additionally, I took a class on intarsia applique taught Unna Hjalmirsdottir (I was the only attendee, so we mostly geeked out together.) Intarsia is also a wool technique that I find to be very similar to nomadic rug applique techniques and was mentioned by Bernadette in her class as well. I'm heavily interested in applique of all kinds as well as working with wool, so I'll be combining the various information. That said, it is obviously how I have interpreted the information, mixed and matched with what was swimming about in my head, so I'm sure I have missed a lot from the original class and added weird detours of my own.

Dalhem textile

Lets start with the intarsia applique, as I have links to tutorials. The best known of the extant pieces are the inlaid woolen coverlets/ intarsia wallhangings/altar coverings from Dalhem, and Skepptuna which are held by the Historiska Museet in Sweden Inventory #23022 dated 1350-1499.

 A recent reconstruction of the Masku was done by a team of 16 headed by Elina Sojonen (blogging at )and Mervi Pasanen (blogging at )  The original and the recreation were then exhibited together in Finland at the National Museum in Helsinki. There is quite a bit of analysis of this and a how to on doing this style of applique at  It is a different style as it doesn't involve pieces being put on top of one another, but rather them being cut and fitted together like a puzzle and then whip stitched in place. Then strips of gilded leather are couched over the seams. The imagery is ridiculously fun and of the type we often see on SCA "Norse Coats." The actual time period it comes from is far outside the Viking age, but I can't help adoring it. Especially as there is a gryphon that I must, must do at some point. And a peacock. It screams to be Artemisian.

Skokloster Cushion
There are actually other pieces done in the same technique but with a different image style. This piece with poppies, called the Skokloster Cushion (inventory #24690 ) is medieval, but looks ridiculously modern .It is also held in the Historiska Museet, which is where most of the textiles of this type are.

The how to at Historical is pretty complete, as the technique isn't difficult so I'm not going to post a tutorial of my own unless someone needs further help.. You cut the pieces, which then create mirror images, as you can see from my in process pieces below and the poppies, So a grey background gets a red leaf and a red background gets a grey leaf. You tack it in a few places (or the teacher in my class used scotch tape) then whipstitch it into place. There is no backing fabric, so you end up with a single layer of wool. Then the leather strips are couched into place over the seams. You can see a small strip of gilded goatskin leather being couched down in my in process photo.

I'll get to working on assembling links for the next type of wool applique: wool on wool roundels like the ones we did in Bernadette's class and hopefully post that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Madder and garters

 I decided to try my hand at natural dyeing some yarn. I used Dharma Trading' s ground madder with an alum mordant and this tutorial from their site.  I didn't buy nearly enough dyestuff and wasn't able to get enough of my wool dyed consistently the same color to do stockings with it as I intended. I do like the color since I adore oranges and this has a definite rusty orange to it.  And it is certainly right smack in the middle of the color madder is supposed to give. I ended up with a lot of slightly different, yet very pretty shades, so small projects are now the order of the day.

Conveniently, I had the perfect small project in mind: garters. I have done several types of garters over the years: macrame, blackworked bands, tablet woven, and strips of silk, I have also tried buckled ones of leather and random bits of ribbons and tapes grabbed at the last minute. They tend to slip down if I have them comfortable enough to wear without worrying about blood clots forming in my legs, untie, or just be too tight, so I have yet to find the perfect garter for me. I read rave reviews from people who had tried out knitted ones. There was much exclaiming of "They don't call it garter stitch for nothing!" So I decided to give it a shot. Thanks to the research of Daniel Rosen (Old England Grown New) and Christine Carnie of  The Sempster, I found two extant pieces to base my garters on. The Sempster's link will take you to her Facebook album on 16th century garters with the pair she knitted for Daniel as well as pictures of a fragment in the Museum of London (object number NN18752, dated 1500-1599. It is not part of their digital collection) and a garter found in Haddon Hall in an account book dated 1632. The Haddon Hall garter is about 1 1/2 inch wide and the Museum of London fragment has a large variety but is close to 6/8 of an inch, according to Ms. Carnie. She examined the Museum of London's piece up close but only was able to see the Haddon Hall through the glass case.

If you have a look at those pieces you'll notice they are pretty utilitarian and nothing like the patterned set of knitted silk garters done in the round with gorgeous tassels found at the MFA.  Those are still on my list but nothing that complex is going to fit into the project schedule this go around. Nor are my knitting skills quite there. There doesn't seem to be an end treatment on the Haddon Hall garter so I decided not to justify my normal tendency to over do things and to just go for plain bands. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.  Sportweight  yarn, 6 stitches per row.

This is one of the most tedious things I've ever done. I took them as my project over Memorial Day weekend camping with the kids. So there was plenty of time in the car and while sitting around to work on them. I'm not sure I would have got them done nearly as quickly if I had other distractions and the ability to switch to something more exciting.  But they do have a lot of grip and a lot of stretch so I am hopeful they will be a good idea.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Venetian turpentine and boiled linseed

The strange brewing of substances for sticking wool to silk continues.  I am trying to use the recipes from the De Kethan Treatise/Sloane manuscript 345 as those are specifically described as being used for printing fabrics. They are called "assays" in the manuscript which is encouraging as "assays: are a term otherwise used as a preparatory layer for gilding with leaf metal. It certainly sounds promising and like the sort of thing I should be using. It also has the advantage of being a later manuscript, dated to the late 15th century and therefore relatively close to the time period I am aiming for. The recipe I am planning to use is a combination of boiled linseed oil, amber and colophony. Colophony is also called Greek Pitch and is a resin. The most easily accessible source of it modernly is bow rosin. I played violin all the way through college. I can tell you that there are few things quite as sticky as this stuff. It can also be found in soaps, shoe waxes, and glues.

The recipe: ‘Substancie tmaken daer alle verue in dinet Recipe .j. lb. Lyn olijs ende sidet een vre ende dan nemt (fol 25r) .viij. loet bernsteen ghepuluert, ende doen dy yn een erden poot ende ghiten dar op lyn olij dy voer gesoden is dat dy wynsteyn bedowen ys myt den olij ende laten dat syen en also langhe dat di bernsteen ghesmonten ys ende roret weel omme myt eyn yseren leppel. Ende als gesmouten ys dy bernsteen soe salment syghen doer een doeck ende doent totten irsten olij ende latent siden, ende pruuet op eyn leye of het sterck genoch sy Ende ist sterck genoch soe doet dar .4. (of 1)pontspigel hars yn ende latent syden een luttel ende dan so settet af, ende dan ys bereyt. 

from Braekman, W. L. Medische en technische Middelnederlandse recepten. Secretariaat van de Koninklijke academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde, Gent, 1975

‘To make substance that serves all paints Collect 1 pound of linseed oil and cook it for one hour. Then take (fol 25r) 8 lot pulverized amber, and put it in a clay pot and pour on it linseed oil that has been cooked so the amber is covered with the oil and leave it to cook until the amber is melted and stir it well with an iron spoon. And when the amber is melted one should sieve it through a piece of cloth and put it with the first oil and leave it to cook, and try on a piece of slate if it is strong enough. And when it is strong enough add 4 (or 1) pound of colophony and leave it to cook a little and then put it off (the fire), and then it is prepared’

Translation by Indra Kneepens in her thesis "Understanding historical recipes for the modification of linseed oil: an experimental study into the properties of modified linseed oil for use as binding media in early northern European panel painting."

In addition to having been mentioned as an ink for printing fabric, and discussion that it tended to be so viscous that it had to be thinned to use to paint with, and it being from the right ballpark time, Ms Kneepens also did extensive experimentation with this oil as part of her thesis. So, I decided that this was the oil for me to try on my crazy experiment. The only issue at all is the expense. Amber-colophony varnish is commercially available at $144 plus shipping for 30 ml. OUCH. Buying amber to burn and make my own is also a bit costly for an experiment, but i am currently shopping around.

I do have some other things going as other options though. I started some glovers size with leather scraps from the leather jerkin and ordered some Venetian turpentine. There was specific mention in the discussion of the 17th century flocked wall papers that the glue used for the flocking was ant-pest because it contained turpentine. I wondered about this a lot since turpentine is used for things like cleaning brushes and thinning paints and I wondered how that worked. Then I found Venetian turpentine. It is a resin made from larch trees with the consistency of honey, a gluey sticky substance that was added to paint to create enamel like effects. Many of the linseed oil varnish mentioned in the various manuscripts from the 9th through the 16th century have boiled linseed combined with different resins. There's copal and incense and other evergreen saps. The Venetian turpentine is not only similar/exactly one of the resins used, it is easily obtainable from art suppliers (and not $144 per 30 ml.) Sounds like a winner to me. I'm not sure if the liquid resin will be any different than the colophony I'm trying, but figured a few options and trials were a good thing.

So grinding and straining and mixing continues as I prep to smear my silk with oil-- an action that seems totally wrong to me. Here's hoping it goes well.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Back to IRCC stuff: Slippers

In the past I've made a variety of leather (and faux leather) slippers to go with my dresses. I did a parti-colored set in rust and blue to go with my Lucretia patchwork dress, the 'strawberry toes in red trimmed with green for the IRCC I dress, and the teal vinyl I for IRCC II. While the shapes aren't too bad, the materials are definitely not standard for Eleonora's wardrobe. According to Roberta Orsi Landini in (your favorite and mine,) Moda a Firenze 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di toledo e la sua influenza, Eleonora had few shoes and lots of slippers with the majority made up in velvet of various colors. Inventories hold thirty-two pairs of red, ten yellow, ten green, five brown, three pairs in grey, two in white, and one in black. Landini suggests the slippers normally matched the dress since there was a letter dated April 16, 1550 requesting white velvet slippers to wear with the white velvet dress Eleonora wore to Don Garcia's baptism but there were also ten green pairs of slippers and green was not a very common color in her wardrobe.

Eleonora's burial slippers don't survive. They, as well as the hairnet have disappeared since the original examination of the grave. There is, however, a lovely pair of surviving velvet slippers in the Rijkmuseum dated around 1550.  The shape is what I used to pattern the teal pair, so I should have a pattern around here. I just need to locate it. Although, with the state of my sewing room, drafting a new one might be easier. I have black, gold, brown, grey, and red cotton velvets but don't have white. while white might be the better choice to match the dress, even with a chopine or other overshoe, i can't imagine white staying clean for more than 10 seconds, so I am drifting towards a darker color. I have a charcoal grey as well as a silver grey and am leaning towards that, since it nods to the white but should stay a bit cleaner. On the other hand, the gold/yellow was more frequent in her wardrobe. Only one pair of black, but it is hard to argue that they would stay cleaner. I may test out stitching some buttonholes to see which one looks nicer in the treatment and see if that helps with decision making.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Kool-aid Peplos

I need to get some clothing done to wear to the SCA's 50 Year celebration within the next few weeks while still working on the IRCC dress a good portion of the time. I also can't do things too fitted because I'm once again having a bit of rapid weight loss. My solution is to do some quick Greek peplos (well, they are sort of peplos. Peplos would have been open at the sides. I'm sewing up the sides so I don't go all Spartan and get labeled as a "thigh shower." ) My registered name is Praxilla, after the poet from Sicyon, writing in the 5th century BCE, so the choice isn't totally out of left field.

University of Cambridge Peplos Kore
Although many people make their peplos out of linens, in Ancient Greece, they would have been fashioned from wool. The reason usually given for substitution is expense. I happened to have found some very lightweight suitings as well as a wool challis recently on clearance (for around $4 a yard) and had some other lightweight wools in my stash, so that was not an issue for me. What was an issue was the lack of color. My wool fabrics are beige and vanilla. Not because that's what I wanted to buy, but that is what was cheap.

More Peplos Kore from the Bunte Gotter exhibition
But it is Greek, right? White would be best, right? No, actually, Greeks wore lots of bright colors. We've known what sort of colors since the 19th century thanks to bits of paint still found on excavated sculptures like those at the Acropolis in Athens. The colors are probably an additional reason that their clothing was made of wool rather than linen. Linen didn't hold color well previous to modern chemical dyes. There are also examples of Roman Senators complaining that they were cold while wearing a toga, so it isn't the only reason for the use of wool. But lightweight wool can be just as comfortable and cool as linen, so I'm not too worried about using it in June in Indiana.

Amphora at MFA by the Camtar painter showing nifty patterned bands
I decided to take the painted Peplos Kore at the University of Cambridge as inspiration, since it uses some of the bright colors and patterns the Greeks were known for (although possibly not as wild and crazy as they actually were-- yes, this might be conservative!) Not to mention the fact that it was created about 530 BCE, so it fit nicely into Praxilla's time period.  I got super excited to do some dyeing. And then my kids got sick so I couldn't go out for supplies. Oh well, I guess we punt. I have done a lot more dyeing of wool fiber than I have wool fabric and I have a selection of Wilton Cake Colors and Kool-aid that I use for that. Mostly because I used to make felted wool toys for kids and so the food safety of the colors was more important than the colors themselves. Not that the food dyes don't make for nice colors, they certainly do.

 Also, they are easy to use. The only issue I ran into is I usually dye in a pot on the stove top and none of my pots are big enough to dye the fabric necessary for a peplos. So I tried dyeing with Kool-aid in my washer for the first time. I just turned on the hot water, mixed up some Blue raspberry lemonade with hot water to dissolve it and dumped it in. Kool-aid doesn't need anything else since there is already citric acid in the mix. The color didn't take nearly as quickly as on the stove. I put in 15 packets to about 6 yards of fabric because that's what I had. I let it soak about 2 hours. Usually you know it is done because the water will be clear and all the color will have been absorbed by the fiber.

 There was still quite a bit of color in the water when I got impatient and just let the rest of the cycle run.  I think there was a lot more rayon in the fabric than reported (I think it was supposed to be 80/20) so it didn't take as well as would be hoped and it didn't full very much.  I was just going to call it and plan to redye, but once it finished I decided the color would be fine. It isn't as vibrant as I was planning for, but it should coordinate nicely with the robin's egg blue and orange sari I found in my sewing room that will become the palla for this outfit. Tomorrow's plan is to block print the edges in blue and orange  for further coordination. I also found a couple of packets of wine colored RIT hanging around in my cleaning cabinet and that's in the washer now with more of this same fabric (I think I got it for like $2 a yard, so I can't be too upset about the extra rayon.) Since the RIT is a multi-fabric dye, it'll probably take better to the mix of protein and plant fibers.

Just in case I need to point this out, Kool-aid and cake colors won''t work on non-protein fibers. They work great for wool, silk, hair, etc. They won't work on linen, cotton, rayon, and other vegetable fibers.