May 24, 2007

First Camping Event Frenzy!


I did not forget to post this week - I am just really busy getting ready for our first camping event of the season, and our first ever with children. Next week I'll have several posts for you to make up for it; on how the toddler garb I have made (six garments and counting) stands up, how the garb I have made and retrofitted for nursing works out, and the info shared at the roundtable I am hosting on Pregnancy, Nursing, and Babies in the SCA, plus I'll upload my Intro to Tapestry Techniques handout to my website for you to peruse, and I'll let you know how the first A&S50 gathering went!

Am I forgiven yet? ;)

What if I say I'll post a bunch of pictures too? My usual bribe/thank you is chocolate chip cookies, but I don't think broadband can carry them - yet!

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May 16, 2007

Class Coordinators


One of my personal challenges is to teach 50 classes, but, to do so, I need venues for my classes. The Good Gentles who coordinate classes, be they for demos or Kingdom Universities, are the heroes of the A&S world. I have three stories for you about their trials and tribulations:

I regularly teach at local events and Pennsic, but somehow I have never taught at a Kingdom University. I somehow had it in my head that the roster would be full of Laurels, and that the Chancellor would have no use for me; she asked me "are you KIDDING?", and that she would love to have me teach; it seems she doesn't have enough teachers! I am thrilled. We will see if she and my students are thrilled *after* my classes!

A local Lady is running a Collegium here in the fall, and I certainly hope that I can fill some teaching hole in her schedule. HER problem is that folks aren't telling her what they want to learn. Sometimes I know what I want to study, and can ask for it, but other times I see a class listed on the schedule and think "wow - I'd LOVE to learn that!" (One of the best classes I ever attended was completely on this kind of whim; all about folding letters in period appropriate ways; sort of like European origami with words! Even better? It was taught in persona! Hurray!)

Lastly, I have caused a MAJOR headache for the class coordinator of a Royal Progress we have coming up; I have become a scheduling nightmare. I consider myself a very adaptable and accomodating person generally (don't laugh!), but having a family is apparently changing that. Trying to coordinate things so that my husband can fight and my kids can always have a parent available AND I can teach more than one class is proving to be a real tangle, and *I'm* not the one trying to juggle the schedule! I really hope that the coordinator decides that my classes are worth the hassle I have caused her!

In summary,
* Let folks know what you are interested in and want to learn about; maybe your interest will be just the kick in the pants someone needs to get them to teach for the first time or to prepare a new class to meet your need

* Volunteer to teach, even if you haven't done it before, and even if you aren't an 'expert' on the subject. You you could host a roundtable, and create an opportunity for folks to share their experiences and knowledge with each other.

* People do have legitimate scheduling conflicts, but please be as accomodating as possible as to when and where you teach; not everyone can have the best room or time, and sometimes teaching means missing classes you would like to attend as a student, but, if everyone was super fussy, there wouldn't be many classes to attend in the first place. Offer to NOT teach if meeting your scheduling needs is becoming a real headache to the coordinator.

And, lastly, gentles usually thank the teacher of their classes, but not often the person who arranged for them; say thank you (or make a toast at feast, or write a letter to the Royals) for the efforts of your Class Coordinators. Even better: volunteer to be Class Coordinator yourself; offer to apprentice to someone, then take on a small event or series of workshops in your local group, you'll be helping to create learning opportunities for everyone!

Thank you Class Coordinators!

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May 13, 2007

Warp Weighted Loom


Somehow, in all my years of weaving, I have never woven on a warp weighted loom. I've woven on backstraps and two beams (primitive/early period looms), and on countermarches and Jacquards (fancy modern stuff), but never on the standard loom of North Western Europe, during early SCA period; my period.
Obviously, this needs rectifying. Part of my taking on the 50 New Things challenge is being able to afford it; therefore I made the little loom you see here from twigs from my overgrown suburban backyard. It is only about 15 inches tall (you can see my baseboard in the background), but I ought to be able to do some nice sampling on it when I am done; hopefully enough to make some nice pouches and maybe even sleeves for my girls.

For those of you who haven't tried weaving before, the biggest issue is keeping the warp threads (the ones that you set up first, and run the long way down a piece of fabric) evenly tight; if they aren't evenly tensioned, it is really hard (ig not downright impossible) to create smooth weaving, and some types of weaving (like tapestry) just won't work at all. On most looms, tensioning each thread equally is done by lots of trial and error, and is a real headache.
Warp weights tension small groups of threads (which still need to be tensioned equally within their groups) by using *gravity* to keep the groups even. Basically, one ties weights (soapstone or clay on big looms, but I used brass weights and lampworked beads on this one) to groups of warps and let gravity hold them down.
One can always thread the horizontal thread (called the weft) by counting over and unders and moving a needle, bobbin or shuttle loaded with the weft under and over the appropriate threads, but a faster way of not having to count the same patterns over and over again is calls for a heddle. A heddle is basically a stick that separates warp threads into groups; when lifted it picks up all of the threads that one needs to go under *at the same time,* making it much easier to pass one's bobbin under, and weave quickly. Several heddles can be used together, so that one can alternate which threads one goes over and under on each pass. Complicated arrangements of heddles allow one to create complicated patterns in one's weaving.
Some kinds of looms simplify this process by having what is called a 'natural shed.' The 'shed' is the space created by a heddle, between groups of threads, where one passes one's bobbin through to create the weaving. As one switches heddles (sometimes called harnesses), one creates different sheds. When a loom, in its normal position, has one group of warps separated from another so they form a shed, this is called a natural shed. On a warp-weighted loom, some of the threads hang straight down the back of the loom, while the others are kept in front of the bottom beam of the loom (the horizontal twig at the bottom of my loom above.) The space created between the groups is the natural shed; I don't need to do anything to create a space between them where I can pass my bobbin.
I DO need a heddle on my warp weighted loom though, and that is where I have run into problems. Since I need to be able to pull those warps hanging down to the back of the loom to the front to create a shed there (so I can go under them as well as over them), I need a heddle with strings that can reach the back of the loom. I can figure out how to do this, but I also want to be able to take this loom to events and not end up with it in tangles, so I need to make it snarl-resistant. That's my quandry, and I'll let you know how it goes.
(As soon as I have this sorted, I want to do some weaving, obviously, but then I want to do a little experimental archeology; warp weights on a horizontal loom, which have been done before, and warp weights thrown up over the top of the loom, so that one can actually start one's weaving at the BOTTOM; which would make tapestry weaving on it much easier. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me. Good thing I have eight years to figure it out.)
You can see some good images of warp weighted looms here, where several New Zealanders have kindly shared their extensive experimentation with us. They have some nice illustrations of parts of the loom and the natural and created sheds about a third of the way down their site.
Note to more industrially inclined gentles: want to make a friend for life? Carve a weaver some loom parts, or make them some warp weights from either soapstone or clay. The only trick to making loom weights is that they have to be the SAME weight.

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Sharing the discovery process


At our local A&S gathering yesterday, we discussed how so many SCAdians work on something neat and new in solitude, or with just the advice of a mentor, and then 'unveil' their work to the Known World. I am all for the grand moment, and certainly the artists in question deserve that moment, but wouldn't it sometimes be fun to share the process of discovery with others who might be interested too?

I have been compiling a list of things I want to try as part of my 50 New Things challenge, and I plan to let folks in my area know when I am doing something, so they can come join me, if they want to.

Talking about period 'aqua' has some of us planning a communal dye day for example. We could have each done our own, but it would be more expensive (for those who lack dye pots, etc), less likely to get as many people involved (it is easier to go to a scheduled thing than to motivate oneself), and, lastly and most importantly, it will be both more fun and more educational to do it together. I am really looking forward to it!

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May 07, 2007

Maypole Directions


'Against May, Whitsunday, or other time, olde men and wives, run gadding over-night to the woods, groves, hills and mountains, where they spend all night in pleasant pastimes; and in the morning they return, bringing with them birch and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withal. ... But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-Pole, which they have bring home with great veneration. ... They have twentie or fortie yoke of oxen, every oxe having a sweet nose-gay of flowers placed on the tip of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this May-Pole (this stinking Ydol, rather), which is covered all over with floures and hearbs, bound round about with strings, from the top to the bottome, and sometime painted with variable coulours, with two or three hundred men, women and children following it with great devotion. And this being reared up ... then fall they to daunce about it, like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols, wereof this is a perfect pattern, or rather the thing itself. I have heard it credibly reported (and that viva voce) by men of great gravitie and reputation, that of forty, threescore, or a hundred maides going to the wood over-night, there have scarcely the third of them returned home againe undefiled.' Phillip Stubbes in his "Anatomie of Abuses", 1583

Such was the late-SCA period view of the Pagan custom of Maypoles, and so it was apparently banned in many areas of Britain during the 16th century.

Good thing we recreate the time before that (Maypole dances began in the British Isles either before or during Roman occupation), since I *love* a good Maypole Dance!

I ran another one this last weekend, and thought others might like to know how, so here are directions!

RIBBONS: White and Red are traditional colors (birth and death), but you can choose your own. Just make sure the colors contrast so the weave shows up nicely. I make mine from 8-10 yards of 36" muslin (for a 15-20 foot pole). I split it down the middle, and throw half of it in the dyepot (1/3 bottle of RIT works well, and takes about an hour - follow the directions). Then I cut it into one inch wide ribbons (by folding it into one yard long sectiions and using a rotary blade.)

** Tricky Math: You need one ribbon per dancer, and need an odd number of dancers for each color of ribbon. (x=2y where x is the total number of dancers, and y is an odd number) That means you need 6, 10, 14, 18, 22, 26, or 30 dancers (keep adding 4 for more dancers), otherwise the weave WILL NOT WORK.

I recommend rolling your ribbons and securing them with rubber bands until in the hot little hands of the dancers, otherwise they will get **very** tangled.

POLE: Choose a straight, dead tree (so as not to cut live wood) about 15-20 feet tall, and no more than about 4 inches wide at the base. Trim side branches as close to the trunk as possible, and cut off any remaining roots. Haul to site of dance.

DANCE AREA: For 20-30 people, and a pole 15-20 feet tall, you will need a clear circle about 20 feet across. Soft soil or sand are preferable substrates. If you MUST do this inside (::shudder::) you can sometimes fit a shorter tree in a Christmas Tree stand, but you may want to place rocks on the legs to stabilize it.)
Dig your hole about 12 inches deep, but DO NOT put the pole in yet. Instead, place the TOP of the tree over the hole.

RIBBON RING: You CAN tie the ribbons to the pole directly, but I find that this just isn't worth it. I use a 2+ inch metal ring (you can use shower rings, macrame rings, napkin holders, horse tack, whatever will fit over the top of your tree with at least a 1/2 inch to spare to allow for knots). Unwind each of your ribbons about 12", and tie their ends to the ring, alternating red and white, then take the ring to the top of the tree, and secure it (I usally use another piece of fabric for this, but rubber bands work as well. CAREFULLY unfurl your ribbons so that they will be within reach when the pole is erected.

ERECTING THE POLE: (Yup, this is *supposed* to be phallic. May Day/Beltain is a fertility festival, after all. The pole is the male, the hole in the soil the female. You do the math about what the dancing represents.) Get your tallest person to stand over the hole, and line others along the tree to walk it up into position (use all males/male energies for this if you can). Tamp down the soil around the base of the now erected tree, and place stones or even a large person around the base to stabilize it (insert memories of Thorson holding 'his' pole here... lol).

DANCING: Assemble your two times an odd number of dancers. You can distribute ribbon colors by gender, if desired (white for female, red for male), but make sure that you have an odd and same number of each. Have dancers unfurl ribbons to a comfortable length (an extra can be kept in the hand), and stand alternating red and white around the circle. Have white dancers (ribbons, not race) face clockwise, and red dancers face counterclockwise. Each dancer should now be facing someone else with the opposite color ribbon. If you do not have enough dancers for all of your ribbons (but remember the math), simply cut those ribbons off, or allow them to hang down and be covered by the weaving to come; I do the latter, so late comers can join us (in groups of four to keep the math right).

Do not worry that the top of your pole is a complete tangled disaster, as this is to be expected. Get your drummers to start a tune with a nice steady beat, or clap for them in rhythm, as it really does help prevent traffic jams. Have the white dancers step to their lefts/the outside of the circle, and hold their ribbons high, while the red dancers pull their ribbons towards themselves and dance under the arm of the white dancer facing them. Everyone stands up, and does the opposite of what they just did; red steps out, and white ducks under. Continue until you have woven the ribbons down to about waist height, and tie them off (tie red to the white next to it, with the knots up close to the tree). Congratulate each other and thank your drummers and count how many nicely woven INCHES you have accomplished (I sometimes get 4-5 feet of nice weaving, but I've been leading these for a LONG time.)

If you have a nice straight pole, you can sometimes slide the knot right off the top of the pole. If not, either let it rot, or get a friendly neighborhood Pagan to burn it at Halloween/Samhain, according to custom (fertility gets burned and returned to the soil at the end of the harvest). Do NOT cut the weaving off, unless you HAVE to use the pole for something else, since undoing the weaving undoes the good fertility juju created by the dancing.

I hope this helps, and I'd love hear about your experiences!

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May 01, 2007

Dyeing FYI


My quest for Bayeux 'Aqua' is leading me a merry round, but I am finding some good dyeing resources that I thought I'd share: (Please suggest additions!)

Thora Sharptooth on Viking dyes
If you have a Viking persona and haven't yet discovered Thora's site, get your head out of the sand, good gentle. Here she lists plants known to be used in textiles available to Vikings between 800 and 1066 CE. She also reports that current thought is that regional color preferences prevailed in Viking lands, with reds predominating in the Danelaw, purples in Ireland, and blues and greens in Scandinavia proper. Also, that while flax doesn't usually take plant dyes well, woad apparently works wonders, and much blue linen may have in use.

An Educator's bag of classroom dyeing experiments makes me wish that I had had a teacher this interesting. This is NOT your usual dumbed-down chemistry in the classroom lesson, but rather contains some really useful looking step-by-step instructions, with explanations, on using a variety of dyestuffs, both medieval and Native American.

The Dye Woorkes by Drea Leed includes period dye recipes translated from many languages. She even gives the untranslated version of the recipes.

Dyes in History and Archeology
lists presentations given at meetings of this chemistry oriented group. A real treasure trove for those who want to chase elusive data across the web. Lots of tantalizing hints about period paints as well.

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And so I begin...


May 1, Beltane, has arrived, and, with it, AS 42. In theory, for the next eight years, I will try something new, on average, every 60 days.

I had thought that I would start with something I have more recent familiarity with, something relatively tidy and useful, something that wouldn't require me to spend any money right off the bat; I *thought* I'd be starting with making an illuminated scroll blank to send off to the Tiger Signet (East Kingdom scroll manager). I will probably still do this over the next couple of months, but it looks like it is going to be sharing the stage, at least sometime soon...

It looked innocent at first. A good gentlewoman has made a new cloak, and posted to our local list, wanting to know if aqua/teal was a period (13th cent Celt) color to use for her embroidery. I responded that an end-of-the-dyebath woad might be a more period choice. Another gentle questioned my dismissal of teal as period, citing the Bayeux tapestry. My first foray into images showed this UK link , and I thought she was onto something. Then I saw this, from the Frieze book , and I wasn't so sure. Not only is the aqua not aqua in the second image, but tunics seem to be completely different colors: reds swap with yellows and yellows swap with greens!

Not knowing what to do with this, but still in search of evidence of Northern European aqua dyed wool, I think I am going to have to hit the dyepot myself, with weld (yellow), madder (orangey red), and woad (Braveheart blue). This will be dredging my memory, messy, smelly, potentially toxic (since I'm going to need to play with mordants - the metal salts that make dyes bond with wool), and cost me some not-completely inconsiderable change since I have no supplies for it at all, and will hopefully be selling my garden (and the house that grows with it) before the end of the growing season, so I need to buy dyepot ready dyestuffs as well. Ah well.

In my websearching, I learned that there have been not only a number of recreations of the Bayeux Tapestry in many forms, (including paint, as the Shire of the Mountain Freehold helped with a few years past), but also new endings to replace the bit seemingly lost to ill-handling over the years.

Links to some of these endeavors include (please feel free to email me with additions):

Jan Messent's new ending (which she wrote "A Bayeux Tapetry Embroider's Story" about, currently out of print, from Madeira Press, UK. She also mentions naturally-dyed wools that they carry made by Renaissance Dyeing of Havorfordwest, but I unfortunately can't find any other info on these...)

Seagirt Tapestry a new rendition, made in the style of the Bayeux, depicting the history of the Shire of Seagirt, in the Kingdom of Antir

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