Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Making stuff for Feast of the Bear - Part 1 (With Pictures)

Feast of the Bear was a super important event this year, but that's not all that unusual. For some reason, stuff seems to happen at Feast of the Bear. That's the event I received my Award of Arms in 2008, at the very same church where it was held this year.

At Trillium war in July, to a great deal of rejoicing, Mistress AElfwyn was put on vigil for the Order of Chivalry. Their Majesties wanted to do the elevation before the end of Their reign, so AElfwyn selected Feast of the Bear as her elevation event.

As AElfwyn's apprentice, I had a small part in the ceremony, so we've spent the past few weeks making things so that I would look the proper Anglo-Saxon(ish) part. That's why we did the fabric shopping trip to Montreal, so we could find fabric that had the right colour tones and fibre content. I also made a pair of new shoes, since a pair of modern running shoes would have ruined the look. :)

On top of all that, Master Giovanni asked me to work with him again on the vigil book by doing the leatherwork for the cover.

So, its been a busy few weeks. Here is part one of my Feast of the Bear work, the vigil book. Other stuff will be covered in the next post.

The book:

I knew I wanted to do something more than just dye the leather, which certainly added some complexity for both me and Giovanni. I had to be precise in the measurements to make sure any tooling etc. was placed correctly for when he made the book. I pushed the envelope a lot on this one, doing a number of new techniques I'd never tried under a tight timeline. Some of it worked, others didn't. In the end, I figured that AElfwyn would appreciate me trying to push the envelope so I went with it. :)

My initial idea was to base the cover on the St Cuthbert Gospel, which is an 8th century Anglo-Saxon book. However, the cover on the Gospel is super complex, with raised sections, tooled sections and is both dyed red and painted with gold highlighting (or more likely gold leaf). Given the timeline for the project I thought it best to take inspiration from the design, but not to try to replicate it entirely. I also wanted to customize it a bit for AElfwyn by replacing the core design with a boar.

First I had to sand the leather to get the pressed layer off (I had to do the same thing for the last book we did, it was AElfwyn's suggestion at the time). Once it was sanded I did the tooling. Here's the tooled wet leather:

Once I did the tooling I realized I screwed up my placement, and essentially tooled the back cover. So I had to modify the plan and do matched tooling on the front and back, like so:

Once the leather was tooled I had to dye it. This is where I made another mistake. Rather than using my existing period red dye recipe, I tried to modify the process based on what Mistress Lucrece did for her recent book project. My hope was that it would give me a truer red. But these are natural dyes and any little variation can throw things off, so it ended up not working out quite the way I intended. The colour was more a brownish purple than red, and it didn't bind well to the leather. More experimentation needed, but I ran out of time and had to go with it since a dye batch takes a couple of days to make.

The dying process took a few days between pre-treating the leather with alum water and then doing multiple coats of dye with drying time between. Just in case the tooled section messed up I dyed the whole skin so Giovanni would have enough space to make a plain leather cover as a back-up plan.

Once it was dried, I used my black water-based leather dye from Zeli's to make the boars black. Unfortunately I found because the red dye wasn't adhering well to the leather, painting on top of it also presented challenges. Each black coat had to dry much longer before I went back for another coat, or it would come right off. I was also worried it would rub off when my top coat was applied.

Once I got the black to where I was happy with it, I took some metallic gold craft paint and a micro brush and painted all of the tooling lines on the boars. I bought five different types of paint and tested them to see which was the least likely to rub off. The best of the bunch was from Martha Stewart that I bought at Michael's.

Here are pictures of the boars painted.

I then had to decide what to do with the border. The original Gospel had a raised line that delineated the border, but the logistics of knowing how much space to leave Giovanni to do that were daunting, so I decided to skip that. In the end I decided to paint the knotwork with the gold paint, but leave the outer lines plain.

After that I let it all dry and applied the a modern top coat to hopefully stop anything from rubbing off as the book was handled. This led me to doing a bit of touching up on the boars as some of the black flaked off, and it did wear away some of the colour, but not too bad. I also had a problem with the top coat making a chalky layer on the leather, which has never happened before. That really pissed me off but no amount of buffing was helping get rid of the coating.

In the end I think it turned out pretty well, although there's a number of things I would do differently. Giovanni did a great job making the book itself. I'm sure it was a nightmare trying to make sure the covers lined up properly because of the tooled border. 

Avelyn described it as looking like an actual artifact that was pulled form the ground (which I think is something that would please AElfwyn) because of the way the dyes rubbed off in some places. It looks weathered.

Here's a picture of the final book that Giovanni took once it was finished.


  1. She's right, I do like how it looks like it was found hidden somewhere in the Bodleian.

    1. I see the Laurel won out in the debate over whether to read the post. :)