Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Another try at the green dye - with pictures

Thanks to Lady Marguerite, and the trading of dye-stuffs, I was able to get my hands on a small amount of fresh buckthorn berries (rather than the dried ones I had used for my first green dye experiments). So, last week I did my experiment.

I basically did the same process as the previous dyes so I could do a proper compare. The only difference is that I didn't need to soak them overnight to reconstitute them. I also shortened the cooking time a notch (down to about seven minutes instead of ten).

The berries themselves were pretty purple when I squished them, so I had my doubts it was going to work. And even when I was cooking them it didn't look all that green, but it definitely worked.

The picture below shows the different samples. The two on the right are my original samples and the on eon the bottom left is the new one. It's much more green, and doesn't have the yellow highlights that the other two have.

I wonder if the reason for the colour difference is the ripeness of the berries. If the fresh ones were more ripe they may not have had as much yellow pigment in them (given that the unripe berries are used for yellow dyes).

Monday, 25 November 2013

Workplan - General A&S projects

My other two workplans were more timelines for specific steps of each project. On this one I'm not going to get into as much detail but I'm going to at least try to set myself a timeline for some of the projects that are on my to do list. I'm hoping setting myself deadlines will work better than what I've been doing, which is just making a list and getting to items when I get to them.

Priority will be on getting the leather dye and stick-purse projects done, but I hope to be able to fit some of these in during gaps in those workplans.

Herald's binder for Harrowgate
Deadline - Break the Back of Winter (done and presented to Canton at Christmas party)

I've bought what I need and I have the carving pattern, so now I just have to get it done. I think Break the Back is a reasonable timeline to do it. (surprised them by having it ready three months early). :)

Leatherworking class for Practicum
Deadline - Practicum (February 22)

I'm mostly ready to go. The class itself is ready, I just have to prep some more kits and maybe prep a few more examples to show during the class.

Badges for Largess Contest at Break the Back
Deadline - Break the Back of Winter (March 15)

I started at Fall A&S by cutting out the leather squares. Just have to carve and paint 12 of the badges.

And here's a list of some of the other ongoing projects I have on mys list, just to keep them on the radar:
  1. Replace Avelyn's favour (likely make a second more sturdy one for wearing in armour as well)
  2. Develop carving pattern for my heraldry and badge
  3. Finish Avelyn's lamellar
  4. Start work on designing new leather leg pieces for Avelyn's new knee armour
  5. Do "commissioned" children's archery glove for Eluned
  6. Do "commissioned" belt favour (with award badges) for Robert the Blue
  7. Figure out shoe pattern

Saturday, 23 November 2013

My leather dye project - coming soon to a web resource near you

I've had a number of people contact me since Fall A&S looking for my documentation. I think this could be, at least in part, because my main source (the Plictho) is not currently in print or available online.

Once I get my research done for Spring A&S I've been contemplating putting together a class on period leather dyes. It wouldn't necessarily be a hands on class, but more a discussion about the sources, the colours and the recipes so that people can go home and try it themselves.

Well, I just got a step closer to making this information available to SCA leatherworkers.

I had written a note to M.I.T. Press, who published the 1969 translation of the Plictho that I am working from. I had asked them about the possibility of reproducing a handful of recipes in my documents and making that available online as a teaching resource for those interested in learning about period leather dyes. That way, even if someone doesn't have access to a copy of the Plictho, my documents will have the original recipe that I have tested so people can build on my experiments or try different interpretations of the instructions themselves. Plus, it's just good documentation to quote the original source.

Last night I heard back from the lady from M.I.T. Press giving me written permission to do it. Still lots of work to do, but I think its great that I'll be able to make this information available. Hopefully it will make the period leather dyes a little more accessible.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Workplan for Spring A&S - Stick-purse

Part two of my work planning posts, this one is for my stick-purse project which has been somewhat on hold while I figure out the leather dyes. That hold needs to get lifted because this is the project I'm really wanting to get ready for Spring A&S since I've been researching and engineering it for over two years.

Fortunately my research and documentation is mostly done (at least as far as I can get it until I'm done with my assembly), so I just have to get my act together and get the darn thing made.

Get linen thread (done) and experiment with it
Buy slightly longer nails (done)
Re-do test run of the braided handle with thinner strips and using period dyes (done)

Figure out the leather braided knot that needs to go on the end of the handle
Start cutting out the leather pieces (very carefully):

  • Strap for top knot
  • Handle cover and weaving strap for handle
  • Four pouch bodies
  • Four pouch bases
  • Four pouchlets
  • Four large drawstrings
  • Four pouchlet drawstrings
  • Possibly trim for tops of main pouches (to clean up the edges)

Dye the draw strings, handle and pouchlet pieces and potentially the trim pieces

Assembly of the four pouches (big chunk of work here)

Assemble braided handle cover
Attach completed pouches to handle
Attach braided knot to top of handle

Finalize documentation

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Workplan for Spring A&S - Leather Dye Project

Alright, time to get organized. I have about four months until Spring Kingdom A&S (March 29 to be exact) and I have a whole pile of work to do if I'm going to present my best work. So, to keep myself on track, I'm going to do a work plan for what I need to get done.

This plan is for the leather dye project. I'll do another one for the stick-purse, and a third plan for all the other miscellaneous stuff I need to do in the meantime.

Given the time restrictions, I'm going to stick with trying to improve my current colours, rather than adding new colours to the mix.

Try green dye recipe with fresh buckthorn berries (done)
Update green dye picture with new sample to compare (done)
Try period black dye with rusted metal  (done)
Take picture (and compare to original test with vinegar dissolved metal - no rust)  (done)
Try to find alum-tawed leather to experiment with

Try to research period coatings that might help stop the dye from rubbing off (like modern top coat)
Retry red dye:  (done)
  • Pre-soak the leather in the alum water longer  (done)
  • Apply oil coating before leather fully dries to try to preserve bright colour  (done)
  • If I have alum-tawed, do a sample of that as well to compare
  • Take pictures as appropriate to document process and results  (done)
Get cheap mortar for grinding pigment (done)
Retry blue dye:
  • Grind the indigo finer  (done)
  • Try soaking the leather in the blue liquid rather than just painting it on
  • Pre-soak longer with the alum-water
  • If I have alum-tawed, do a sample of that as well to compare
  • Try one of the recipes with Roman vitriol
  • Take pictures as appropriate to document process and results
Wrap up any experiments still pending above
Update documentation

Clean up any details (focus should be on stick-purse at this point)
Print documentation and assemble display

Monday, 18 November 2013

Wrap-up from Kingdom A&S and the QPT

Warning, this will probably be a long post. :)

Wow. Something tells me this won't be the last Queen's Prize Tournament.

There's plenty of discussion and comments out there about the day, so I'm going to focus on my small slice of it but I will say that was one of the best, most enjoyable days I've spent at an SCA event - ever.

I'm a behind the scenes kind of guy. I'm also surrounded by a hoard of uber-talented people who tend to get a lot of attention (well deserved), so I sometimes feel like I'm in a bit of a shadow.

I don't enter A&S competitions that often, and the last couple of years I've had mixed feelings from my Kingdom A&S experiences. As a result, I wasn't really planning to enter anything this year. My stick-purse wasn't ready and I didn't really have anything that was completed that would be worth entering. Then the Queen's Prize Tournament was announced. It was just for comment - no judging sheets, just live discussion about the item. And they encouraged us to enter unfinished projects.

For those who've been reading this blog, you know that this pushed me to enter my period leather dye research. It's not nearly done but I figured it would be a good chance to get some input and suggestions on my dyes, plus get out of the shadows a little bit. Following QPT, my plan now is to enter two projects in the Spring A&S competition - the stick-purse, and the leather dyes (which I really only got into in the first place because I wanted to go 100% accurate on my stick-purse recreation).

Interestingly, for the QPT I was grouped with the dyes and pigments, rather than with the other leather items. This actually made for a really interesting discussion with my judges. I had Master Dafydd, who knows a lot about leather and leather tanning, but I also had THL Lassarfhina, who's more into scribal uses of inks and pigments, and Mistress Gaerwen, who is hard-core about fabric dying.

Through the conversation, they really liked my documentation (despite it's tome-like length). I also got some really interesting ideas on how to get some of the dyes to work better:

  • Try grinding the indigo powder even finer so it can more easily penetrate the leather
  • Try soaking the leather in the indigo bath for a much longer time (instead of just painting it on)
  • Use distilled water rather than filtered as the chlorine can react 
  • For the red dye, try applying the olive oil at the 10-ish hour mark when the red is still bright, rather than waiting until it dries out completely and fades.
  • Look at the recipes using Roman vitriol (copper sulphate), might make a nice blue
Since I'm not interested in doing any of the recipes using bodily fluids, I gave Gaerwen a piece of leather for the next time she's doing an indigo dye, so she can see how it works. :)

Outside of the roundtable discussion with my judges, I also chatted with a number of other people about my leather dyes and the stick purse. I know Mistress Ælfwyn referred one of the other leatherwork entrants to me as he had done the iron-based black dye and was interested in information about colours. I had a number of people ask if I could share my documentation with them, which I think is really cool.

I also had a nice conversation with THL Wilfrid & THL Jhone about the dyes and the stick-purse that was found on the Mary Rose. Wilfrid suggested looking at other liquids, like alcohol or oil instead of water, as they might help the leather absorb the pigment. We also cut a corner of the green and red off to see how deeply it penetrated (it tinted the leather all the way through, which is a good sign). 

He also mentioned that the green colour I got was bang on what he would have expected from buckthorn and was apparently called goose poop green in period. So, yay for goose poop green! And, he mentioned my project had given him the itch to go home and try some of the dyes himself, which I think is a really big compliment!

Looking at the way the red dye faded, Jhone suggested that the fading may have been because of the alum wash rather than the dye itself. She noticed that the edges of the leather had more red. This could be because it was more exposed to the dye on the edge, but also because the alum may have collected more on the edge. She suggested I try painting the leather with the alum water rather than dipping it (so it distributes more evenly). The other idea we had was to soak the leather more thoroughly in the alum-water to see if that affects how the dye sticks to the leather.

When I wasn't geeking out I had setup a table to do some leather tooling but I admit I didn't get much done. I did talk about it with some people who came by to see what I was doing, so that's always good. Maybe some of them will give it a try.

At the end of the day I got a really great prize for my participation. Master Dafydd gave me one of the first arrowheads he ever made, which is just really cool. I'll have to figure out something really good to do with it! I'm told he was rather insistent in picking my name. :) 

All in all, having so many really talented people interested in my work, especially since it just started out as one of those side projects I had to do get the stick-purse done, was really cool. Not sure I can say I'm in the shadows anymore. :)

Side note: I've mentioned to my Canton that I might make this research into a class that I could teach. It probably won't be as hand's-on as my leather pouch class, but I'll wait and see where I land after Spring A&S.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Kingdom A&S and Queen's Prize Tournament

This weekend is the Queen's Prize Tournament that I've been preparing for. I've got my documentation all done up (a bit excessive for QPT at 13 pages of content but lots of pictures take up lots of space). Since this will be entered as an intermediate/advanced project for Spring A&S, I wanted to have my documentation mostly done so they can give me input on it as well.

My project won't be as visually pleasing as some - it's just a bunch of swatches, plus my containers of pigments that I used. It's not your typical A&S entry of a single object like when I did my pouch, or even my leather carving where I was presenting a finished item. This project is more about the research and experimentation. But I think it's pretty interesting and not all that common (at least based on the lack of online information available). Either way, I don't think I'll be shaming my sponsor (THL Eluned) with the project.

My discussion time is at 3 pm so I'm going to have to kill some time. This is going to be a really big event (57 people are entered in the QPT plus the regular Kingdom A&S entries) so I think I'll want to stay out of the way.

I'd prefer not to sit off somewhere reading a book like I did last time I was at Kingdom A&S, so I'm bringing my leather tooling stuff with me and will set myself up in a corner somewhere and work on award badges. Her Excellency Catherine is sponsoring a largess competition at Break the Back of Winter in March, and I thought some carved leather badges for the Kingdom awards would do the trick.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Leatherworking Class - Achievement Unlocked

After months of planning and a delay last month for when I got called in to work the weekend, I finally delivered my leatherworking class at the Harrowgate canton meeting today.

To be honest I was kind of nervous going in, having never taught a class before but I think it went pretty well.

For details on the class, see this post where I planned out the contents (with links to the pics of the pouch we made).

I had capped the class at 15 to keep it manageable, but I'm glad we weren't full. We ended up with 8 people doing the class, and that was about the right number to make sure I could devote some time to each person and help them as needed.

The class took about an hour and half, which is on the upper end of what I was aiming for, but didn't feel too rushed or too drawn out. People seemed pretty happy with their pouches.

Some notes:

  • Folks seemed to like the handout and a number of people with lots of hand sewing experience were able to work ahead using just the handout, so I'm hoping that means the steps were explained well.
  • I got lots of compliments on the format, with me popping around helping people, answering questions and explaining some of the documentation and embellishments as people were working.
  • Need to buy different needles. I had bought a bunch of #3 harness needles but the eyes weren't big enough for the artificial sinew (we ended up having to split the sinew to help people thread it through the needle).
  • I think for Practicum I'll cap it at 10 people to make sure I can devote enough time to people. 15 would probably have been too much.
  • One suggestion I had was to do up a couple of more demo pouches showing some of the embellishment options. If I have time I think that would be nice.

Period black leather - with pictures

This won't be ready in time for the Queen's Prize Tourney next weekend, but I think I'm on the right path to have it as part of my project for spring A&S.

I've had a number of good chats recently about this one with Mistress Ælfwyn. Master Dafydd from Petrea Thule was also giving me some tips at Feast of the Hare the other week. To paraphrase Mistress Ælfwyn, I'd be a goof not to do the black dye since its the easiest one to do. :)

The first step for my period black dyes is always using rusted iron, so I needed to find some rusting metal. I had thrown a bunch of cheep nails in a jar with vinegar to prep them. Turns out they won't rust that way (no oxygen) so I need to restart the experiment.

Basically the iron oxide in the rusted metal is supposed to react chemically with the tannins in the leather and turn it black. The recipe I plan to use actually boosts this reaction by pre-treating the leather with oak gall to add even more tannins. I'm hoping this will make a darker, truer black.

The vinegar didn't get me any rust, but just for fun I wanted to see what would happen if I applied it to the leather. I figured maybe I'd get a little bit of a colour change, even just a bit darker would be neat.

Well, so much for that. The pics below show just what happened, it's a true black. I really have no idea why this worked. The vinegar had started to dissolve the metal, so there was definitely some metallic material in the solution. No idea what it would be though. Would iron oxide form without rust?

This piece has a coat of olive oil added and it just made the black pop, looks almost like modern black leather.

Without flash
With flash

 If I'm going to use it for my project I need to do the period documented recipe, but this is still really cool. I may still bring it next weekend just for fun.