Monday, 30 December 2013

Black is the - Leather dye update (with picture)

Over the weekend I did an experiment with the vinegar black leather dye recipe.

My previous attempts at the vinegar black didn't really follow a recipe, I just let some nails sit in vinegar for a few weeks and then painted it on the leather. It worked, but I wanted to compare how it would work with an actual period recipe.

The concept and overall function was the same - the iron in the vinegar solution reacts with tannins and turns the leather black - but the period recipe calls for pre-treating the leather with gallnut solution to introduce the tannins. This is largely unnecessary with modern leather because it already contains tannins from the vegetable tanning process. But if, as is suggested in the Plictho, most of the recipes were intended for use with alum tawed leather, perhaps the tannins needed to be added in period?

In any case, I wanted to see if the introduction of additional tannins would affect the colour, even for veg tan leather. The theory being that more tannins might make a darker black.

I had previously made a new batch of the vinegar solution by letting some rusting nails sit in a jar of vinegar for about three weeks. The recipe called for boiling the nails in vinegar for four hours, but I figured letting it sit for that long would have the same general effect without stinking up the house. Call it a modern adjustment. :)

The next step was to make a solution using the gallnuts to extract the tannins into the liquid, so that I could apply it to the leather. I had gotten some gallnut extract from a dying supply store when I did my last order. This is the pure extract rather than the actual galls, so I modified the recipe a bit here too. The original recipe called for grinding up the gallnuts and then boiling it in water for an hour. Since I have the extract already processed, I simply added it to the boiling water (as much as I could dissolve into it) and boiled it for about 15 minutes. I figured I didn't need longer since I wasn't trying to extract the tannins but just to dissolve the powder into the liquid.

I let it cool a bit and then painted it on the leather as per the recipe instructions. Once it dried, I applied the vinegar black to both the gallnut-treated leather and an untreated piece as a control. I did only one coating, since I wanted to have a good comparison of the darkness of the colour. Once it dried I then applied a coat of olive oil.


As you can see by the picture below, there's very little difference in colour between the two pieces. The gallnut-treated leather is a bit darker but that could be fixed by applying extra coats of the vinegar I suspect. It also has a bit more of a shiny finish for some reason.

The one big difference I found is that the gallnut-treated version made a mess when I was doing it. Basically the vinegar was reacting to the liquid I had already applied to the leather, which meant it turned black as I was applying it on the surface, rather than reacting to the leather itself. As a result, my hands were coated in black that didn't wash off.

I also noticed that it left a black residue on the surface of the leather, which would need to be polished and rubbed off. I think most of it came off when I was applying the oil finish, but I'd still be concerned about it rubbing off on someone wearing a leather item. The non gallnut-treated leather was very well fixed and the black was not rubbing off the leather at all.

It could be that I didn't let the leather dry long enough between the application of the gallnut solution and the vinegar. But, given that both methods seem to produce an equivalent quality of black, I think I'm more likely to use the non-gallnut version for day-to-day use since I have more confidence in it not rubbing off on people's clothes.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Update on red leather dye (with picture)

Thanks to the input of my judges at the Queen's Prize Tourney (Master Dafydd, THL Lassarfhina, and Mistress Gaerwen) I've been able to tweek my process for my red dye and get something that I would be really happy to use on a project. It's a nice rich red, and a big improvement on the brick/brownish-red colour I was able to get prior to the QPT.

For those who didn't see my last post, here are the things I did differently with this batch from the previous.
  • I used purified water in hopes of getting any chemicals/minerals out to see if that would make a difference.
  • Totally unintentionally, I let the brazilwood bloom longer before making my dye. Last time I bloomed it overnight (so about 12-14 hours), but this time I got busy because of the holidays so it actually sat for at least 24 hours.
  • I double checked the recipe and based on my notes from last time I may have miscalculated how much water to use (I had cut the recipe in half but my notes say I used the full 680 ml of water). I may have just written it down wrong though so not sure if this is a difference or just a scribal error.
  • I pre-soaked the leather in my alum water for a full two minutes instead of just a quick dip to moisten.
  • I actually soaked the leather in the dye for 30 seconds rather than just painting it on.
  • I did four coats instead of three
  • After the last coat, I applied the oil finish after about 8-10 hours of drying instead of 16 when it would be fully dried and faded.
So that leaves me with four working dyes that are ready for use on select projects (I still need to be careful what I use them on since I'm not entirely sure they won't rub off over time or if they get really wet). I still need to do some more experiments with the black, but otherwise the only thing left is the bane of my existence and the one colour I haven't been able to get to work at all, the blue dye.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Pre-Christmas Project Updates

I've been puttering away on my various projects since I finished the herald's binder. I'm still way behind but stuff is getting done.

Leather Dyes
1) I made a new batch of the vinegar black, using rusted metal this time. Instead of boiling it foe 4+hours in vinegar I just let the nails sit in the vinegar for a few weeks. Figured it would have the same effect without stinking up my house as badly.

Next step is to prep a piece of leather with the gall nut extract to see if the resulting black is better than using just plain veg tan.

2) The other night I started a redo on my red leather dye to see if I could get it to work better, based on the discussions we had at the QPT in the fall. We'll see how well it works, the second coat is still drying. Here's what I did differently from my last attempt:

  • I used purified water in hopes of getting any chemicals/minerals out to see if that would make a difference.
  • I double checked the recipe and based on my notes from last time I may have miscalculated how much water to use (I had cut the recipe in half but my notes say I used the full 680 ml of water). I may have just written it down wrong though so not sure if this is a difference or just a scribal error.
  • I pre-soaked the leather in my alum water for a full two minutes instead of just a quick dip to moisten.
  • I actually soaked the leather in the dye for 30 seconds rather than just painting it on.
  • After coat number three, I plan to apply the oil coating earlier (when its mostly dry but the colour hasn't faded yet).

3) I also started thinking about how I'm going to update my documentation. I need to add any new research or colours (for example, I found a fourth source of period recipes), but that's fairly easy. I also plan to include an annex where I'll detail what I changed since the QPT to show that I'm not just resubmitting the same exact project, but that I've progressed and continued my research and experiments based on the input I received. 


I did another test run on the handle braiding, this time using thinner strips both vertically and horizontally. I've decided to go with the original wider pattern. I like the look better, but also the thinner strips cause the pattern to raise more, making the leather shift on the handle. From a practical perspective, I also need a significantly longer strip of leather to do the thinner pattern and I don't actually have a skin long enough to produce something that long.

I also tested the colour and I think I like it better with the dark colour as the base (vertical strips) and the light colour being woven in, so that's how I'll do the handle for the purse.

I tried again but still haven't been able to figure out the leather braided knot for the end of the handle. Given how much work I have left to do for Spring A&S, this element may get scrapped.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Surprise - Canton Herald's Binder (with pictures)

Months ago, Nathaniel talked to me about possibly doing some sort of leather herald's binder cover. It's been on my to-do list for a while, but I've been busy working on my QPT project so it kind-of got shelved for a while. I had worked out the carving pattern for the tower at Baron's Howe, but I hadn't really done anything else.

This weekend, while Avelyn was raiding the Black Friday hoards, I was going to do some more work on my leather dyes but decided I should try to get this done instead.

I presented it to the Canton at our meeting/Canton Christmas party on Sunday as a Christmas gift. Yay!

Here's what I did:

First, I had to carve the tower applique piece. I worked on that over the course of the past week and got it ready to go for the weekend. For the dyes, I used a brighter yellow (rather than the mustard yellow I used before), and mixed my own shade of blue to brighten it up a bit since the stuff out of the bottle was so dark. I was pretty happy with the results.


Next, I had to get the binder piece done. I decided to use my period dye for this part, so used what was left of my vinegar black. It's such a big piece of leather I had to use every drop I had, and it still wasn't quite as dark as I would like, but it's still pretty good.

So on Saturday, it was a matter of assembling the pieces. I stitched the tower applique on, then used my rubber cement to stick the big leather piece onto the binder. I had originally planned to roll all of the edges over but that didn't work so I just stitched across the top and bottom to fix the piece onto the binder. I trimmed the edges a bit, and voila - she's done.

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.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Green dye experiment (with pictures)

Over the weekend I finally got around to experimenting with ripe buckthorn berries to make a green leather dye. The tip that triggered it was something I found on the Yale Traveling Scriptorum site. They created a small book of the recipes they were using for their project.

In a footnote in the booklet they referenced how they prepared their buckthorn berries since they bought them dried rather than fresh (from the same supplier where I bought mine). So, that solved question one I had about how to reconstitute the berries in a useful way. I figured soaking them in water would work, and had played with that a bit when the supplies first came in, but it was good to confirm it worked from a secondary source.

The recipe I'm using is in the Plictho and is the one I've been laughing about since I first got the book. It uses paternosters as a measurement of time (as in boil the mixture for the time it takes to say six paternosters). Now, I have no idea how long that is, but based on the length of text and normal speaking rhythms, I've guesstimated that it takes 1-2 minutes to say a paternoster. So, I boiled my mixture for 10 minutes.

I've done two samples, one with the leather untreated (other than using a deglazer to remove any surface finishes and dirt) and one pre-soaked in my alum water. I want to see how much of a difference it makes.

To make the dye I basically soaked some berries in tap water overnight to re-hydrate them. I then put them in a pot with a bit of alum, covered them with vinegar and boiled them for 10 minutes. I included the water I was soaking them in on the theory that there would have been juice in the berries if they were fresh. It may have weakened the vinegar a bit but I'm using strong vinegar (10% acid as opposed to normal white vinegar that is about 5%) so it should still be OK.

Once it had boiled I poured it into a jar and let it cool. It's a really dark, mucky colour. It almost looks black or dark brown in the jar, but when you paint it on the leather it's a bit like a dark olive colour. Interestingly, when you rinse the brushes, it comes off in the water as a yellowish colour (which makes sense since unripened buckthorn was used in period for yellows).

I applied two coats of colour on both sides of the leather and let it dry. Both pieces turned out a yellowish colour with a hint of green,

Applying a coat of olive oil  darkened both pieces a bit. They definitely have a green tinge to them, but are in the yellow/brown tones.

Here are the pictures:
This is the colour before I add the olive oil finish. Much yellower.

This is the colour after the oil layer. The piece on the right is the alum treated leather, the piece on the left is the untreated leather.  Underneath is the yellow dye that I did in my first experiment as a comparison.


The alum treated leather was much stiffer but otherwise I didn't notice much difference in colour or colourfastness. The green isn't quite what I was looking for, but it's pretty similar to what the Yale scriptorium achieved. I do have another recipe that includes verdigris, which might make a more blueish colour.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Ælfwyn Effect - Pics of my red leather dye

Here are pictures to show where I landed with my red dye. As mentioned in my previous post, I was chatting with Mistress Ælfwyn  and she suggested that I apply some oil to finish the leather to see if it would bring the red back out.

As you can see, the red is nowhere near as rich as before it dried in the first picture (its more a terracotta than a true red, but its much darker than when it dried our). The colours are a bit off since this is indoor light and a flash on my camera but you can see the difference in the bottom picture. Before I applied the oil, the piece on the bottom right was the same as the piece on the bottom left.

I'd say it's progress, although the colour is still not as red as other examples I've seen from Karl Robinson ( and Yale (

Picture before the dye dried fully
Picture after it dried fully and then an oil coating was applied

The joys of translating period recipe ingredients

In reading my various leather dye recipes (and the same thing happens when looking at cooking recipes too), I keep seeing strange ingredients that I've never heard of before. This presents a challenge as you have to figure out what it could be.

In my earlier recipes, I had to figure out what curcuma was. Turns out is plain old turmeric. Not so hard really with a bit of Google-fu.

But sometimes the period names are really rather intimidating.

Case in point, a number of my recipes call for something called "Roman vitriol". Now, I don't know about you, but to me that sounds like some pretty nasty stuff. Probably not something you'd want to keep in your house, right?

And besides, where the heck are you going to buy "Roman vitriol"? I don't really have a handy store that carries ancient Roman chemicals down the street. Although, come to think of it, I do.

Because you see the scary sounding "Roman vitriol" is modernly known as copper sulphate, which is used to kill roots in septic systems, and sometimes to get rid of algae in ponds. I can actually buy it at Home Depot a couple of blocks from my house.

Now, copper sulphate is still pretty toxic stuff so you have to handle it carefully. But it just doesn't have that scary ring to it that "roman vitriol" does.

Monday, 21 October 2013

General update on this and that.....

I haven't had a huge amount of time lately for any leatherworking projects but a busy period is coming up.

Coming up, we have:

Nov 2: Feast of the Hare, which is our Barony's big event normally, but will be even bigger this year since our new Baron and Baroness will probably be stepping up.

Nov 10: Teaching my leatherworking class at Harrowgate Heath. It had to be rescheduled due to work overtime, so hopefully it will be good to go this time.

Nov 16: Fall A&S, where I'll be entering my leather dye project in the Queen's Prize Tourney. I'm done my first draft of the documentation, and most of my actual work is done (unless I decided to try to pull off more colours between now and then).

Dec 8: Canton A&S competition. Not sure I'll be entering anything since its supposed to be for first attempts and I don't really have anything new I've been working on.

Feb 22: Practicum, may offer to teach my leather class and Avelyn and I have been tossing around the idea of doing a couple of classes on media relations.

Mar 29: Spring Kingdom A&S, where I plan to submit my stick-purse. Depending on how things go at the Fall A&S I may also update my leather dye project and resubmit it.

I did do some minor armour repairs for Avelyn so she could fight at Border Spat this past weekend. Just fixing a broken strap and such, nothing super exciting.

I think one of the bigger items of interest came from a conversation I had over the weekend with Mistress Ælfwyn about my leather dye project. I was telling her about my frustration with the way the red dye faded as it dried, and she suggested I try finishing it with oil anyway, as it might bring the colour back out.

I pulled out some olive oil, which seemed period appropriate given the recipe was from Italy. I know olive oil is often used instead of neatsfoot oil, and is what Karl Robinson uses to finish his period dyed leather (according to his web site).

It definitely brought the red back out, although its more brownish-red than the original colour before it dried. I let it dry overnight and it still kept some good colour, so I'll see what it's like when I get home from work today.

I suspect most of my work over the next few weeks will be on trying to get my leather dye project ready for Fall A&S. Once that's done I'll need to start the construction of my stick-purse so that it will be ready for March.

Once those two big projects are done, I think I'm going to switch back to doing some leather carving. I owe a few people some award badges, and I have to work on the Herald's binder of Harrowgate.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Weekend red dye experiment - with picture

Well, it still sort-of works. The picture below shows the work I did this weekend on my red leather dye. It took me all weekend to do three coats of dye because the recipe says to let it dry between.

As you can see, it still didn't really work very well.

The top piece of leather is the natural leather as a comparison for colour.

On the bottom right you have the leather colour when its still not fully dry, which looks pretty good. I did the last coat on that piece before I went to bed, so its been drying about 10 hours.

The piece on the bottom left has been drying since yesterday afternoon, so closer to 18 hours. It's the same number of coats of dye as the other piece and actually looked about that same colour when I went to bed. It still has a slight red tinge to it but not what I would expect.

I suspect by the time I get home both pieces will look about the same.

I'm not sure why all of the colour is vanishing when it dries, I just don't get it.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Red dye test sorta, kinda worked... a bit

I got some really strange results from my first attempt at getting the read dye to work. I definitely got some red, but not what I was expecting and not sure how to fix it.

I followed the instructions, or at least my interpretation of the instructions, and got a red liquid with some sediment on the bottom.

I let it cool until it was a bit warm (as per the directions) and then painted both sides of a piece of leather (as per the directions) that I had cleaned with my standard deglazing liquid (basically rubbing alcohol I suspect).

This is where it got strange. The dye just made the leather wet, with no sign of tinting, but as it dried, a bit of a red blotch formed on part of the leather (I think where the leather was in contact with the surface it was resting on.

The blotch is on both sides of the leather, but everywhere else is just the regular tan colour of the leather.

I tried applying more layers the next day but it didn't make any difference (possibly because the mixture had cooled and sat too long?). No matter how many layers I applied after the first one, the only change I got was around the raw cut edges of the leather, where it got a bit of a dark brownish red.

The good news is the red blotch seems to be very much fixed, it doesn't rub off and the liquid didn't seem to affect it, so if I can figure out why the first layer acted the way it did this could work really well.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Starting my documentation for period uses of colour on leather items

Colour can be found on many period leather items. There are lots of examples of extant artifacts in museums still showing the original colours, or at least enough traces that indicate they had been coloured originally. We also frequently see examples in artwork of objects that could be made of leather (frequently pouches) that are different colours.

There are really two types of examples, objects that were fully coloured, and objects that have designs painted on them (often in combination with leather tooling).

It's obviously difficult to tell from the artwork whether a coloured object is made of leather or fabric, but there are some ways to make an educated guess in some cases. For example, with the stick-purse the two extant examples with this design both have flaps made of leather (even the Mary Rose artifact where the pouches may have been made of fabric).

The focus of my A&S project is the period dyes, rather than the painted decorations, but I think it's important to understand the different uses of colour in period as part of that discussion.

Painting on Leather:

The Reverend's Big Blog of Leather has an interesting post on the history of leather painting (this is actually the first of a series of posts on the topic as he does some experiments on various techniques).

Another resource, this time on painted shields, was linked to in the previously mentioned blog post. Mostly about painted wood but has a few tidbits related to leather and a lot about period pigments.

Here's an excellent example of painting on leather. The case for the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, 14th century The Kunsthistoriches Museum:

My badge carving project, while using modern paints/dyes, would be a similar example.

Dyed leather:

As mentioned in some previous posts, I have four different period dyers manuals that contain recipes for dying leather, which is pretty strong evidence that this was a practice done in period. Given that they are from several regions and time periods, it also suggests it was fairly widely done. Most of these recipes are for dying the whole skin as part of the preparation of the leather. The coloured skin would then be used for making leather items (like pouches, clothing etc.)

To show that these dyes can work, I point to Karl Robinson, a leatherworker and merchant in the UK. He uses period dyes from one of my four sources for his leather items.

I believe there are references in Goubitz's Purses in Pieces of coloured leather, I'll have scan it for mentions of colouring as part of my documentation.

Since the trigger for this project was my stick-purse, I've got some examples from that research that apply here. There are several period paintings of stick-purses with coloured flaps. Based on the extant examples, those flaps are probably made from leather and it's likely the leather for these flaps would have been dyed rather than painted. Here's one artwork example.

The Banker and His Wife, REYMERSWAELE, Marinus van (16th century)

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Dye Updates

Still no luck with the blue dye. I tried another approach this time, making up a solution with alum as a mordant and pre-soaking the leather. That didn't seem to make much of a difference, other than stiffening the leather up. The blue just rubs off with a damp cloth again.

Now I'm starting to wonder if the issue has more to do with the indigo I'm using. All of the instructions I see for fabric dying with indigo calls for all kinds of processes to dissolve the pigment into the liquid. I'm wondering if maybe the "indigo" being used in my recipes is somehow different from the dry powder that I'm getting modernly.

Whatever the case, that's now five attempts using two different recipes, so I think I'm going to move on for now. I`m running low on indigo powder anyway. I`ve ordered more (plus some gallnut extract and lye for other recipes) but may as well work on another colour so my A&S project doesn`t stall.

I've started work on a red dye recipe. First step was to mix a bit of water with some brazilwood dust and let it soak overnight, which is happening now. Tomorrow I'll add some more water and boil it for a while, and add in some gum arabic. Hopefully this one will work better.

As part of the recipe I had another Italian measurement to figure out, this time a quarti.

Just to document what I found, this is what I used:

Quarti = 0.6625 litres

Post period definition of a Quarti is that 1 amphore of wine = 16 quarti = 137 english gallons

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

An inventory of period leather dye pigments

Just like I did with my inventory of colours, I thought it might be helpful to go through my four sources and inventory what ingredients seem to have been used for pigments used in leather dying. It's probably important to keep in mind that what pigment sources were used would have varied by region and time period, so there is a fair bit of variance between the sources.

However, this list at least provides a source for the ingredients that we can show were in fact used (even if not widely) at some point in period for leather dyes.

I haven't done any deep research into the less common of these to figure out exactly what they are (for example, I know about murex and lac but not sure what "murex lac" is). Some of these ingredients (like the murex lac) are used in making compound pigments, rather than as dyes on their own.

I'm pulling this information together as interesting detail for the documentation of my Fall A&S project for the Queen's Prize Tourney, but thought I should post it here as it could be useful for other people as well.

Black grape skins
Curcuma (turmeric)
Grains of Narprum (may be Buckthorn berries)
Gum lac
Kermes (also referred to as vermillion)
Litharge of gold
Lulax (compound pigment)
Murex lac
Privet berries
Raphanitis/Ireos flowers (Iris flowers)
Reno citrino (no idea what this is)
Ripe Buckthorn berries
Verzino (compound pigment)
Walworte (also referred to as elderberries)
White lead

Monday, 30 September 2013

Attempt #3 - Blue leather dye

As mentioned in my previous post, given the lack of success with my previous blue recipe, I've moved on to another one to try. This one is a bit different in that it uses an acid (strong vinegar) instead of water.

Once I figured out the measurements, the recipe basically uses 1 oz of indigo and 450 ml of vinegar for each skin. I've cut down my amounts to 1/4 of a batch because I don't need that much for a test, and I'm starting to run low of the indigo after so many failed attempts.

The recipe says you can do it two ways, either just mix the ingredients together, or heat them (which supposedly gives you a brighter colour).

Here are my notes from the test run:

Round #1

For the first try, I made the mix without heating it and let it sit for approximately 2 hours. The recipe doesn't say to let it sit, but it seems to me it makes sense to let it "brew" for a bit.

After letting it sit, I painted it on with a brush. I applied two coats, letting it dry in between. I then manipulated the leather to help it soften and work the dye into the grain, and applied a third coat.


The pigment seems to still be rubbing off the leather, although not as bad as with the other recipe.  It does still wipe off with a bit of moisture, so I wouldn't consider it safe to use. The colour is barely distinguishable as blue, rather than black or grey (at least in indoor light).

Round #2

For the second try, I followed the same steps as round one, but I let the dye sit for a full 24 hours to see if the vinegar would dissolve more of the sediment.


The pigment settled a lot more so the tinted liquid was much more transparent. In fact, it was barely dying the leather at all until I mixed it back up again. Colour is pretty similar to the first try, certainly not much blue-er under indoor light. I'll let it dry overnight and see if it rubs off like the last try.

Next rounds I'll try boiling the dye a bit to see if it would affect anything, since the book does say it will generate a brighter colour.

I may also try a bit of a change by going outside of the recipe to test my theory that the modern tanning process is different than in period, and so we need to do some extra steps to prep the leather in order to get period dyes to work.

I'm thinking of pre-treating the leather with a mordant like alum to see if it might help the dye stick..

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Figuring out more measurements - Leather dyes

I'm working on my next attempt at figuring out a period blue leather dye that actually works, and of course this means I have to figure out the measurements.

The next recipe I plan to try, which is from "Segreti per Colori", uses a liquid measurement call the foglietta. This is apparently a common measurement in period in Italy. As I discovered, Italian measurements in period are not exactly simple as they often had different meanings in different city states.

Ironically, one of my cookbooks has the answer, as it was also a common measurement for cooking.

Scappi uses this measurement a fair bit, although I`ve seen some commentary online that Scully may have misjudged the correct definition of his weights and measures.

I should probably get a copy of the book "Italian weights and measures from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century", because I have a feeling between my leather recipes and my cooking, this could come in handy.

Given this commentary about Scully`s translation, I think I`ll go with the recommended measurement from Italian weights and measures, which means I need to mix 1 oz of indigo with 450 ml of strong vinegar.

It`s a fairly simple recipe but once again there`s nothing in there that would help it to bind to the leather. Maybe the vinegar will help break down the indigo so the colour will actually soak into the leather, but there`s no mordants or anything else I would expect, so we`ll have to see how it does.

Monday, 16 September 2013

What colours of leather were available in period?

I know I sit around all the time wondering things like "what colours did people use to dye their leather items in period", but does anyone else?

Well, for those who do, I've gone through my four period sources of leather dye recipes and from those sources I've got the following list. Blue, green and red look to be the most common consistently across all sources, but there's a pretty good variety of other colours as well.

Colours include:
Blue - multiple recipes & sources
Green - multiple recipes & sources
Red - multiple recipes & sources
Black - multiple recipes & sources
Gray - multiple recipes, one source
Brown - multiple recipes, one source
Peacock (not sure what colour that is but could be a blue I guess) - one recipe, one source
Gold - one recipe, one source
Yellow - one recipe, one source
Purple - one recipe, one source
Green-purple (not sure what colour that would be either) - one recipe, one source

There is also a group of recipes using something called Pandius. According to, this is a compound pigment that can vary in colour depending on the exact mixture of components (

Keep in mind too that some of these colours may have multiple variations and tones. For example, there are some blue recipes that are labelled "light blue" and others are called "azure". These could actually be very different colours.

The bulk of these recipes come from 15th century or later, but one of the smaller source books is from the 12th century.

I'm particularly interested in the purple but it seems to be a pretty complex process to get it to work.

Possible stick-purse angst solution

With the announcement that we will have two Kingdom A&S events in the next 6 months or so (a fall Kingdom A&S with a competition focused on newer artisans, and then the formal Kingdom A&S and Pent in the new year), I may have come up with a solution to my angst over the stick-purse.

The fall contest is less formal, and they are specifically advertising it as an opportunity to enter unfinished or even failed projects for commentary.

So here's my plan:

I continue to aim for Spring A&S for my completed stick purse as the extra 5-ish months over the less busy winter should give me time to get it to a state I'm happy with (which I think is one of the main reasons they are moving this to the new year).

For the fall event, which is on this side of Toronto and therefore very much within range of us going, I could do up a partially completed project on my leather dyes.

So far I have one dye that works perfectly and one that was a complete failure (looked good but wouldn't adhere to the leather). But, over the weekend I found two new source books that contain leather dye recipes, some of which are fairly straightforward using commonly available ingredients. I could present my research on the dyes, along with samples of the various attempts (both those that worked and those that didn't).

It's important research, I think, because it would not only improve the authenticity of my projects when I use the period dyes, but it would also give me visual evidence of what colour palette would have been used in period so that I could replicate the correct colours using modern water-based dyes.

It also flows nicely into my stick-purse project as I could use the documentation on the dyes as an annex when I submit the full project in the new year.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Harrowgate tower - with picture

Yesterday I took some time to paint the Harrowgate tower that I carved at Baron's Howe. I'm really not happy with how it turned out, so I'll be carving another practice one to try another approach.

Here's the final pic:

The colour around the tower is actually blue, it just came out too dark (and the flash just made it darker).

So, here's what I did:

I started out by washing the whole thing in black and then wiping the black off. The intention was to highlight the cuts, like I did with the red on the populace badge I carved. I then painted the black on the doorway and the cross, the blue background and the yellow tower.

Unfortunately, too much of the black stayed on the surface when I did the wash, so it darkened everything else. I do like the way the black highlighted the lines (which is what I intended) but I don't think I can do it using these colours. In fact, I'm thinking I need to paint a layer of white first so that the yellow and blue brighten up, but that means I can't do the black highlighting on the cuts.

I'll have to give it a try and see how it turns out. Maybe the lines will still show through OK.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Decisions to make for the Stick-Purse

So I'm getting frustrated because my progress on the stick-purse lately has been pretty much non-existent. Part of that is because I've had so little time to work on things, but I think a large part of it is that I'm kind of at a standstill until I can figure out the period leather dye recipes I want to use. I have the yellow but need several more, and I'm just not getting much inspiration on figuring out how to get these recipes to work.

So, I think I need to make a decision.

I could keep plucking away and wait until I'm happy with the work before I move forward with my stick-purse for Kingdom A&S. But that could mean another year or two of research before its ready to submit. That being said, it also means I will have what I hope is a really kick-ass project that shows all kinds of really applicable research, along with a fair amount of work in interpreting the historical sources and applying them. Since that's the whole reason I'm doing this, that's a pretty important point.

Or, I could put aside my desire to go whole hog (and admittedly my ego in wanting to wow people), and put my dye research on hold for now. Maybe I could do it as another Kingdom A&S project, or something for the White Wolf Fian later on. If I do that, I could use modern water-based dyes to simulate period colours and could potentially have the stick-purse done in the next few months. It may not make it for Kingdom A&S this year, but it would be a whole lot more likely than otherwise.

The stick-purse itself is pretty solid research-wise and I'm pretty proud of the detective work I've done to try to recreate the pattern, but it just isn't as impressive (at least for me) without the scientific work of figuring out the dyes.

I'm not keen on submitting a partially finished project; if I'm going to enter something I want to be happy with it. The other complicating factor is that I only have enough of the goat skins to make one stick-purse. Tandy doesn't sell it anymore so unless I can find another source of super thin veg tan leather, I may have a hard time making another one later on (at least to Kingdom A&S authenticity standards).

Regular readers are probably as up to date as it gets on my stick-purse project. I'd love any input or thoughts.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

New leather carving pattern - Harrowgate's tower

So while at Baron's Howe this past weekend, I spent my day Saturday working on some leatherworking. Namely, I was developing the carving pattern for Harrowgate Heath's tower. Since the Canton's badge still hasn't been passed (I believe there were some conflicts that needed to be resolved), I'm using the tower for now to represent the Canton.

I didn't bring all of my dyes and such, but was able to finish the carving portion. The consensus seemed to be that I got it right with my first try. It had the right amount of depth without being too busy (which could have been a problem given the level of detail in the original drawing I was working from).

I used my new angled swivel knife, which made a big difference for a lot of the finer detail work, which gives me hope I can improve some of my other carving patterns for the various awards badges.

I'll try to post a few pictures once I get a chance to unpack my gear and finish with the dyes.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Various and sundry updates

It's been a while since I posted so a bit of an update on some recent work.

1) I finished printing up my class hand-outs and the kits are all stuffed and ready to go. I'll hand out the harness needles day-of so they don't fall out of the kits when people are pulling things out. So with that, I think I'm pretty much ready to go, barring doing a practice run or two to figure out what I want to say.

2) The Fries Museum stick-purse looks like it has a bit of a leather button on top of the handle with a loop that could be used to hang the pouch when not in use (as seen in some of the artwork). In my leatherbraiding book there are a couple of patterns to use to make these types of buttons/knots, so I took a stab at one of the easier looking ones tonight. Not so much success on that. I'll have to keep trying to figure it out but it didn't turn out looking anything like the picture. Might have been because I wasn't paying attention to whether the strap was twisted while I wove it. I'll keep trying on the weekend, which leeds me to...

3) We're going to Baron's Howe this weekend for the first time. Since I'm not sure what I'll have to do at the event, I've decided to bring a portable leatherworking shop that I can setup under our shade tent.

I've got the book and strap so I can work on the button, plus I've got all of my leather tooling gear so I can start working on the Harrowgate herald's binder that Nathaniel asked for. I've traced out the pattern on my tracing paper and have a couple of scrap pieces of leather to practice on, plus the round of leather I'll be carving for the actual project. My plan is to carve and dye the round, and then applique it to the larger leather piece. We haven't decided yet if we'll just do a leather cover for a modern binder, or make something from scratch and insert the rings into it. Either way, the applique should work.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Making the kits for my hand's-on leatherworking class

I've been making some good progress on getting my kits together for my leatherworking class.

As a refresher, I'm teaching a hand's-on leatherworking class for the Canton in October. We'll be making small belt pouches as a way to learn the basics. Down the road I'll probably look at doing similar classes on leather tooling and leather dying, but for now the focus is an intro to stitching etc.

I'm capping the class at 15, but that still means I need to make 15 kits.

Each kit will have a harness needle, pieces of artificial sinew for the stitching, plus all of the leather pieces pre-cut and pre-punched so that all folks need to do is sew them together.

So far I have the bag pieces for all 15 kits cut out of garment weight pig skins of various colours (I have some brown, blue, red and green). I'm now punching all of the holes around those pieces and have about half done. I expect I should have that done by Wednesday if I can spend some time on it.

Next I need to cut out the belt loop pieces, which are from a heavier leather, and make the draw strings using  my strapping tool.

I'd like to try to have all of the kits done and bagged by the end of next week so I can move on to more projects. Mass producing leather pieces like this is not exactly the most exciting thing in the world. Of course, if I teach it at Practicum I'll just have to do this all over again.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Back from Pennsic

We have safely returned from Pennsic.

Leatherworking wise, I showed off my stick-purse mock up a bit to nice reviews. I only made it to one leatherworking class, the "what's in your toolkit" class. It was a decent review of tools but I don't think I got much out of it since most of the tools were things I already have and know how to use.

While I was busy at the rapier list, Avelyn did finally make it to Cariadoc's cuire boulli class after four years of both of us trying to fit it in. I believe her comments were something like "this is so stupidly easy, why haven't we done this before!" She had the same opinion of Master Cariadoc as I did following the two cooking classes I attended, that man can teach!

Shopping wise I did buy a new leather stamp, a pair of crossed axes. It looks really cool. I also asked about thinner waxed linen thread but it doesn't seem to be available, so I may have to see if I can find linen thread for sewing and wax it myself. Otherwise I'll never get the tight stitches I want for the stick-purse pouchlet because of the size of needle I need to use for the thread I have. Avelyn also bought some armour pieces we were missing so hopefully we'll be able to get her lamellar done soon.

Sadly, our Pennsic this year was overshadowed by situations at home. We spent most of our time trying to stay up to date, sharing information with friends and supporting each other. We ultimately ended up leaving earlier than expected, and I missed a number of leatherworking classes I had planned to attend as I just didn't have the heart to go.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Leatherworking at Pennsic

So I've started to look at my classes and such for Pennsic this year and as usual there are way more than I'll have time to do. A number of the classes and activities on my list have to do with leatherworking:

On the 25th and 31st, Artisan's Row has leatherworking scheduled for the full day. I've always foudn this interesting but I'm never keen on hauling my stuff to Pennsic and then carrying it around so I can go to this. Last year I walked by but it looked like the kind of thing you would want to have a project to work on, it seems like mostly a sit around and work on your stuff kind of activity.

Also on the 25th, there's a course called "What's in your leather tool box" which could be interesting, plus a class later in the day on making pilgrim's bags.

On the 31st, there's a course on making  a roll-up leather case for "sharp pointy things". I think its mostly a case for sewing stuff but I could probably modify the design for other purposes. Cariadoc is also doing his class on cuirboulli, which I've been trying to get to since my first Pennsic but it always seems to conflict with something.

So it looks like whether I go to the Artisan's Row or not, those two days will be filled with leatherworking (plus some other activities). I also have a bunch of rapier classes I'm looking at taking, plus some cooking and feast planning courses (and this is on top of my rapier battles, thrown weapons and other stuff).

So another restful Pennsic ahead! :)

Pre-Pennsic update on various and sundry

With just over a week until the first wave of people leave for the wilds of Pennsic, we've been busy working on all fronts.

Leatherworking class:
For my October leatherworking class for the Canton, I've completely finished my hand out and its ready to be printed. I've also started to cut out the leather for the class, but I have a long way to go. I have the pouch pieces for five pouches cut but still need to do the draw strings and belt flaps. Plus, I'm going to need a lot more than 5 kits.

I did a quick show of hands for who is interested on the Canton e-mail and Facebook page and so far have about 12 people saying they are tentatively interested in taking the class. I'll probably cap the class at 15, just to keep it manageable, and so that people get some one-on-one help if they need it. Right now, I'm thinking I'll probably need to charge a materials fee of a few dollars, just to recoup some of the leather costs, but I'm trying to use scraps and leather I already have on hand (as much as possible) to reduce costs.

I'll probably do 15 kits and if I don't get that many people, I can always use them if I decide to offer the course at Practicum next year.

Stick-Purse project:
Design-wise, I think I'm about done. I may fiddle a little bit with the waxed linen to see if I can get some thinner threads pulled out (so that I can in-turn use a smaller needle and get the stitches tighter), but otherwise I think its good to go.

This week I started working on my documentation and I'm now about 80 per cent done. Really, the only information I need to add in is stuff from Purses in Pieces that I need to pull out. The content is about six pages, with another 4-ish pages of annexes with pictures of artwork and extant examples, links and bibliography.

Once we're past Pennsic, I'll need to spend a bit of time going back to my period leather dye project so I can figure out at least a few more colours. I've got the yellow for sure. I'd like to try to get a red since I have the brazilwood. Black or dark brown would also work if I can't get the blue or green recipes to work.

Once that's done, I'll actually be ready to work on the final project, which means there's a small chance I'll have it ready for this year's Kingdom A&S.


I did a full inspection of Avelyn's body armour pre-Pennsic and did some minor repairs (some of the stitching had blown). Also did some work on her leg armour to hopefully make it less of a pain to wear.

Added straps to her demi's she bought at Pennsic last year although there's some question if they are usable (may be too short, leaving her wrist not adequately protected).

I tried to rivet the straps onto Avelyn's full gauntlets last week and it was a bit of a failure. Because of the curve of the gauntlets and the size of my anvil (plus the fact I have to work on the floor) I couldn't get the right angle to cleanly rivet the straps on.

We went to the Canton A&S and armouring day this past Monday. I was there for a meeting and Avelyn going to get some help with the gauntlets. Unfortunately she had a bit of an incident and discovered how sharp my leather scissors are, and didn't get much done the rest of the night.

Morag was able to help with some structural ideas and did help her cut out the leather pieces, so I may see how far I can get with assembling it all. We can always go to A&S this coming Monday to get help with the riveting. This may end up having to wait until after Pennsic though since we're running out of time to get projects finished and get everything packed.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Another stick-purse mock-up (with pictures)

Today I did a run to Zeli's to pick up some waxed linen thread, some glover's needles and other miscelaneous equipment so I could do my next version of the stick-purse.

Improvements I wanted to make this time were a more accurate pattern for the pouchlet, plus trying the linen thread that I'll be using for the final pouch so that I can figure out any of the particularities of the material.

As a reminder, here is the stick-purse from the Fries Museum that I am trying to reproduce.

And here are pictures of today's mock-up. I don't think I can get much closer as far as the actual pattern goes. It's pretty bang on.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Today I learned a new skill (with pictures)

As part of my stick-purse project I learned a new skill today.

The stick purse has a leather braided handle over top of a wooden core. Since I've made some good progress on the pouch design itself, I thought I should start working on the handle. On my birthday I had bought a leather braiding book from Zeli's so I bought some one-inch wide dowels and started playing with it.

I have two types of dowel, oak and poplar. I'd like to use the oak but I'll have to see what works best since I'll need to be able to nail the pouches to the handle without splitting it (yes, the extant example at the Fries actually had the pouches nailed to the wooden handle).

As a start I made what the book calls a slit leather handle covering of one thong. Basically you wrap the handle with a single piece of lether that has slits cut into it. You then weave a single strip of leather over and under the slits until you have covered the handle.

I picked this handle design because the extant examples and the artwork normally show that the handle is covered by a chequed pattern of leather. This is the simplest type of pattern I found in the book that produces that look to the woven leather.

I cut the handle cover piece last night, with 1/2 inch wide strips cut into it. I then dyed it a dark brown and then glued it to the handle. After leaving it to dry all day, I wove the tan strip of leather (also 1/2 inch wide) through the slits in the handle.

I think it looks pretty darn good for a first try. Second picture is with the mock-up of the pouch so you can get an idea of what it will look like.

Weekend project updates

Over the long weekend Avelyn and I made progress on a bunch of long-standing projects to help get ready for Pennsic. This is just a quick post to track some of the work we did on the weekend for future A&S reports:

Added finger straps to Avelyn's new leather demi-gauntlets
Cut out new shield rim leather piece to replace worn section
Inspected and repaired Avelyn's body and leg armour
Trimmed Avelyn's leg armour

Still to do pre-Pennsic:

Re-rim the shield once new tubing has been acquired and heraldry has been glued on
Adjust Avelyn's armour belt and legs
Add straps to Avelyn's full gauntlets
Add trigger loop to Avelyn's sword

Monday, 1 July 2013

Latest stick-purse mock-up (with pictures)

It's the Canada Day long weekend here. Usually we spend this weekend at Trillium War but due to some unforseen circumstances we ended up not going this year. Instead, we stayed home for a stay-cation and I was able to do some leatherworking.

I took my previous design that I'd developed based on the Fries museum purse and took it the next step, adding the pouchlet and draw strings.

As a starting point I used the pouchlet pattern that Mistress Elizabeth provided in her hand out from the Pennsic course she taught last year. The shape doesn't exactly match the picture from the Fries (I think it's more like the other example in Purses in Pieces), but it gave me a good idea of what's involved, since I've never tried doing a pouchlet before.

I think it turned out not bad. I'll need to tweek the shape of the pouchlet a bit. I have an idea of how I can replicate the shape of the pouchlet from the Fries. If that doesn't work, I'll use the pattern from Mistress Elizabeth but may want to make it a bit bigger as right now it wouldn't fit much in it.

Here are the pictures:

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Birthday Leatherworking

I booked the day off work yesterday for my birthday. It's a tradition in my family to book the day off and do stuff you enjoy doing (or at least get stuff done that you don't otherwise have time for).

I used the time to pop over to Zeli's and pick up some leatherworking stuff I've been meaning to get, plus look around for materials I need for my fall leatherworking class.

I found some nice brown pigskin that will work well for the class, and picked up some needles that I can give to folks as part of their class package. I also bought  the leather braiding book that Mistress Elizabeth recommended in her stick-purse course, so I can start looking at what to do with the handle. And of course, I bought myself a few "birthday presents" as well.

They had a really neat book of Celtic and Norse patterns that has partial documentation of where the designs were found. (for example, it may say that the pattern was from a bedpost in Gotland, or something like that). Not enough that I could track it down, but better than most where it could be entirely made up by the artist.

I have to admit, I also bought myself some leather. They had some really nice sueded goat skin in a nice brown colour on clearance. It will be really awesome for something. And I bought a few new tools, and a new smaller blade for my swivel knife (for when I'm doing finicky detail work).

I did do a bit more work on my stick-purse as well, cutting out the pieces for another of the mock-up pouches. I figure if I do three, plus the handle it will give me  enough to see how things go together.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Big stick-purse news

I had a very exciting week last week with respect to my stick-purse project. All thanks to THL Catherine, who sent me a link to a merchant in the UK who had done a stick-purse.

In reading his site, it mentioned that his work was based on a find from the Mary Rose...

Now, this is cool in and of itself, but let me recap. Both existing artifacts I knew about, along with every piece of art I've ever found with a visible stick-purse has been tied somehow to what is now the Netherlands (a couple of the paintings were from Germany but were done by Flemish artists that were living in Germany). I had never seen a reference to a stick-purse outside of that region, never mind finding an artifact on the freaking Mary Rose!

For most of last week I was corresponding with Peter in the UK, who made said purse. It turns out he's an illustrator at the Mary Rose museum and was able to get authorization from the museum to send me the information about the item. It isn't identified in any of the Mary Rose books as a stick-purse (it hadn't yet been identified when the relevant book was published), which would explain why I never found any reference to it (not that I would have thought to check the Mary Rose for a Flemish artefact).

I have to admit I was a bit of a Muppet around the house last week, I was so excited about the find.

So we now have three extant purses I can reference (the Mary Rose purse is fragments but there's enough pieces, along with where it was found on the ship, to clearly suggest it was a stick-purse). And, unlike the other two which were right on the cusp of the end of our period with vague dates, the Mary Rose piece can easily and definitively be dated to 1545, well within our period. Hard to argue that an object isn't period when it was found on a ship that sank on a specific date. I had the artwork, but its always nice to have an actual artifact to confirm.

Of course, as with any piece of important research, this actually raises more questions that in solves.

First, the remains of the Mary Rose purse suggest a different construction than the others (for those counting that's three pouches with three different designs). The handle is a bit different, the proportion are very different (the flaps seem to have been placed much higher on the handle) and the remains of the leather pouch flaps are a different shape and attached differently than I would have expected. I'm going to have to take a closer look to compare the designs, and probably do some reconstruction to figure it all out. It isn't entirely surprising that different leatherworkers would make the same object in different ways - these aren't mass-produced modern items after all - but it still presents challenges when trying to reconstruct the pieces.

Second, what the heck is a purse like this doing on the Mary Rose? It was found in the purser's cabin, along with a bunch of coins, scales etc. The purser's role was to handle transactions for the ship but according to the folks at the Mary Rose museum, the equipment found also suggests he may have acted as the crew's money-changer, so that makes sense. Was he of Flemish origins? Did he have some connection to that region of Europe? Or was the purse design used more widely than we previously thought, despite the lack of artistic representation?

What does all of this mean? Well, right now I don't really know.

This will obviously change my documentation significantly, but I'm not sure it needs to affect the actual project. I'm still thinking I like the design of the purse from the Fries for my project since its different from previous pouches I've done. That means I still have to document my choice to make that design, despite the fact that the Fries Museum has such a broad date range assigned to the item, much of which would be considered post-period.

Since the Mary Rose purse doesn't have intact pouches (just the handle and flaps), I can't really say what pouch design they would have used so that won't help me document the Fries item. Materials look to be similar (although there's no way to know if the pouches themselves were leather since they didn't survive).

All in all, a busy week to geek out on leatherworking discoveries.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

EUREKA - New stick purse pouch design (with pictures)

It's been a while since I made an progress on my stick-purse project but I think I made a really big step forward last night. I finally had the time to work on the pouch pattern for the version of the stick purse that's at the Fries Museum.

The Museum told me the dimensions of the pouch (10 cm circular base and 20 cm tall), so I made a pattern based on those dimensions. The pattern uses a round base of thicker leather, with the walls of the pouch as a single pieces that wraps around the circle and meets at the back of the pouch. I then extend the walls around the edge of the base piece and sew it to the bottom all the way around so that it gives a clean rounded edge. Then a sewed up the seam at the back.

This was my best guess as to how the pouches were done for the Fries Museum piece. I got the idea from a piece at the Museum of London.

I have to say, it looks bang-on to me. It sits the same way as the stick-purse example, and bulges at the base the same way. I think I've hit the nail on the head with the design.

Next step is to put the draw string on it, and add then to figure out the pouchlets. Then I have to start figuring out the handle.
Here's the picture of the stick-purse from the Fries Museum:
Stick-Purse - Photo courtesy of the Fries Museum in the Netherlands
And here's a picture of my mock-up that I just completed:

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Planning my leatherwork class

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm planning an Intro to Leatherworking course for this fall. I'll be giving it following one of our canton meetings, although if it works out well I could probably do it at some local events as well.

The challenge is how to design a course that I can give in about an hour to an hour and a half that will teach people the basics, given that most projects will take longer than that to finish.

The concept is similar to the course I originally took from Tiberius at Practicum several years ago, which is what got me started in leatherworking. I want people taking the class to end up with a useful project, so I was going to use the making of a belt pouch as the vehicle for them to learn the basic skills. That being said, most useful belt pouches will take a new person more than an hour to make, so the trick will be cutting some corners by doing some of the more monotonous work for them in advance, but still walking them through the process so that they know how to do it for themselves later.

My plan, as mentioned here is to use my own design for the pouch. That way I'm not infringing on any copyrights if I share the pattern with people. Here are more pictures of the ones I did for ComicCon.

For the hand out, I'm thinking of doing it step by step, with tips and info for each step included as they go. The annex will include the research I did with links to artwork showing the style of pouch from the period, as well as a list of good resources for period leatherworking as well as local sources for supplies.

Quick outline of the handout would be:

Basic tools and equipment
Picking your leather
Cutting the pattern
Sewing the pieces together
Embellishments to consider
Annex - Research and other resources

For the class itself, I'll quickly go over the different kinds of leather, the basic tools and materials we'll be using and a bit about belt pouches before we start the project.

I'll probably pre-cut the pieces and punch the holes but I'll bring some scraps and my hole punches so that people can learn the skills without having to spend 20 minutes cutting and punching everything (especially since I won't have enough punches/awls etc. for everyone to use at the same time). I figure about 15 minutes for the intro and showing them the punches.

For the stitching section, it's really just a matter of showing them some basic stuff. I'll probably show them the different materials for sewing the pieces together (waxed linen thread, fake sinew etc.) and then the saddle stitch, and then let them get to work assembling the pouches. I figure giving about 45 minutes for the sewing, during which time I'll wander and answer questions or help people along if they are having trouble.

After 45 minutes has past, I'll stop people and show them some of the things they can do to spruce up their pouches. Some of these are things that would need to be done during construction, others at the end. This would include putting the little closure button on it, putting trim on the belt pouch loop to clean up the lines, adding an applique, tassels, pouchlets etc. I'll show them pictures of examples. I figure this would be about 10 minutes.

After that I'll open the floor to questions for 5-10 minutes (or as long as people want to go).
That brings me in at about an hour and 15 minutes depending on the length of the question period at the end, which is probably as short as I can reasonably get and still have people learn the skills.

Any ideas or comments from my readers on the course? Suggestion on how I can improve the outline before I get to far into it? Is teh timeline reasonable? Does it sound like it might be helpful or interesting?