Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Planning for Practicum (with a question for readers)

So the call for teachers has gone out for Practicum, which is a local day of classes in February on all things historical and relevant to the SCA here in Ottawa. Last year I taught a class for the first time (Intro to Leatherworking) and I think it went pretty well.

So this year I'm trying to decide if I want to actually offer two classes, and whether or not I have the time and energy to get them both prepped.

The first class would be the same Intro class I did last year. I have some kits left so I don't think it would take too much work to prep enough for another small class.

The second is a new class I've been working on around my period leather dye project. It would be more of a discussion, rather than a hand's on class (it takes too long to make the dye and apply it to the leather and the process is just too messy and smelly to really do in that setting). The idea would be to walk through the sources of recipes, what colours would have been available and show the results of my experiments. I have permission from the publisher of the Plictho to reproduce the recipes, so people would walk away with at least a few original source recipes to play with.

The question is, would there be interest in the classes? I only got a handful of people for the intro class last year, which was fine because for a hand's on class I'd rather work with a small group. The dye class is more advanced, but still pretty specialized, so there may be a limited number of people interested (but also less prep involved in it since I don't need to make kits for people).

So, let's do a survey oh readers of the blog. If you're going to Practicum, would either of these be of interest. You can comment here or on Facebook when I share the link there, whatever's easiest. :)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Our Day at QPT (With Pictures)

In a small Kingdom like Ealdormere, there aren't a lot of events that draw close to 200 people. Trillium War does it, but that's a multi-day camping event in the middle of the summer. But in the winter (or at least close enough that there's always the threat of snow), and an event without any martial activities? It's pretty much unheard of.

And then there's QPT. An entire day with the entire focus on just geeking out about research and arts & sciences projects. The fact that 200 people showed up is just amazing.

On top of entering a project this year for QPT, I was also scheduled to be a judge for four different projects, so my day was much busier than last year.

My Project

Last year for QPT I entered my period leather dye project and got lots of great feedback and tips to get the recipes to work better. It ended up improving the project, which I entered into Kingdom A&S in the spring.

This year I entered my full mock-up of the stick-purse. This was a pretty big deal since I've been working on the research and engineering for a couple of years (the dye project actually stemmed from my desire to go whole-hog on the stick-purse, which meant figuring out how they would have coloured the leather in period).

The conversation with my judges was interesting because it didn't really follow the usual flow for these things where I talk about what I was trying to accomplish, etc. We just jumped straight into what the heck it was, how it was used and the different design considerations. It felt like a pretty in depth discussion with people who really knew their stuff, which was fun. We were talking about what the best approach would be for the back seam, whether the bottom seam was the right approach based on the picture, and best materials for the final pouch.

They also seemed to agree with me on my theory that coloured leather (in this case possibly on the drawstrings) could have been used as a way to tell what coins were in which pouch. I specifically demonstrated this by having four different currencies distributed in the four pouches. We had no way of telling what was in each bag without pulling the coins out (which seems clumsy for such an otherwise well thought-out item).

Overall I got the impression that they felt it was a pretty accurate reproduction using modern materials, with a few possible tweeks that could improve it, so the next step is to translate it into the final period purse while improving some of the elements that I'm not yet satisfied with. The final purse may be done for Spring A&S, but it will depend on where the event is being held as well.

It was also neat to have conversations with a number of other people who've been following my work on the stick-purse and were really excited to see some sort of tangible product finally. :) The stick-purse got lots of strange looks by people wandering by trying to figure it out, which was fun to watch.

Here are some pictures of the final mock-up. It's not the easiest item to take pictures of since its kind of busy, but it gives you an idea at least.


My Judging Experience

This was definitely new for me, as it was the first time I've volunteered to be a judge for anything like this. Frankly I never really felt like I had enough knowledge or skill in any area to really contribute much. I'm still not sure I do, but there were so many people entering I wanted to help out where I could. 

I had offered to judge entry level leatherworking projects, anything with leather dyes, as well as any juggling or tumbling entries (given my circus background). Sadly, there were no juggling entries but I did get assigned to judge a total of four leatherwork projects (although one of them pulled out on the day so I ended up with three sessions total).

Overall, I'm not sure how much I contributed to the conversation on most of the projects. I was judging with people who had far more experience and knowledge relevant to the items, and kind of trumped anything I might have had to add (not that it came across that way or was at all negative, it was just that I had so little knowledge to pass on in comparison that I was more in listening mode than anything). I did learn a lot about horse bridles and knife sheaths though, so it was certainly a valuable experience. I had a little bit I could share for Grom around dying the leather and the pictures we took while in Dublin of tooled leather knife sheaths, but that was about it.

The one project I feel like I actually added some value wasn't even on my original judging list, it was added closer to the event. The project was around experiments with dye-stuffs, including applying dyes to fibers, leather and wood. I had a good chat with Brendan about his project and was able to share some of my experiences with my research project from last year. I gave him a copy of my documentation so he could track down some of the recipe sources and do some experimenting as well. Hopefully he found it useful.

The Rest of the Day

Both Avelyn and Emelote entered items as well and it sounds like they had good conversations and input on their projects.

For QPT, sponsors bring prizes equal to the number of people they sponsored and then they each pick entrants that they would like to present with their items. That way each entrant gets something, usually from someone who was really impressed by their project (and who wasn't their sponsor).

In my case I received a really cool mortar and pestle, along with a box of dried spices from Mistress Aibhilin (which I'll totally be able to use for some upcoming cooking). You can see it in the middle of the picture below.

I was also called up into court at QPT and presented with an Award of the Orion, which is an arts and sciences award from the Kingdom. This was really cool on a number of fronts. First, obviously it means people are liking the work I'm doing. Yay me! :) It also means I have awards in all three of the main areas of the society (A&S, service and martial skills). I think this is really cool because it's not all that common to have people active in all three spheres (although my martial participation hasn't been great lately).

It was also really cool because of the crazy scroll I received for the award. Lady Augusta went totally over the top with the artwork. There's a frickin leather kraken appliqued to my scroll! How crazy is that? The kraken isn't just in the name of my blog, it's also the main charge in my SCA heraldry. We call him Steve. :) And the wording, which you can't really see in the picture below, is full of groan-inducing puns by my very own Lady wife Avelyn. I know they are groan inducing because the room was groaning as they laughed while it was read out in court.

There were, of course, lots of other highlights. We got lots of hugs from friends, were able to see Her Excellency Christiana put on vigil for the Order of the Pelican (WOOT), I got my apprenticeship pudding (don't ask, long story) and we were able to start giving out some of the gifts we brought back from the UK (although most of them are still in transit).

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

UK Trip Summary - Part 2 (with pictures)

Warning: This is another long post. :)

When last we left our intrepid adventurers they were leaving Oxford and heading to the Midlands to visit with Robert the Blue and Lerthan.


We had a great visit as we stayed with them for about four days. We spent lots of time talking about the differences between the SCA at home and in the UK, and some of the things we could do to improve how we run events and do feasts.

The highlight of the visit from a history perspective though had to be our stop at The Original Reenactor's Market (TORM). We had specifically timed out trip so that we could check out the market, as we'd heard about the really awesome recreation quality merchants that go there.

In a word, it was epic. We basically spent six hours there wandering through the merchants. We bought lots of gifts for other people back home, and some stuff for ourselves as well. I focussed on hardware like belt buckles, pouch frames etc. that are hard to find here at home. But we also got to meet some of the people I've been following on Facebook like NP Historical Shoes (yes, we got our measurements taken for future orders). I also got to chat with Peter Crossman, who helped me with my research into the stick-purse at the Mary Rose last year. We're just waiting for the packages to arrive since had too much stuff to bring back with us on the plane.

Avelyn had a lot of fun as well. One of her highlights was meeting the author of Medieval Tailor's Assistant, and having a lovely chat with her.

After our visit, we packed up on Remembrance Sunday and headed back towards London for our flight to Dublin the next day. On the way we made a stop in Northampton at the Museum of Leathercraft. This is a small museum that covers the entire history of leathercraft, but there were a couple of neat items for our period.

Late 16th C buff-leather
Early 16th C gunpowder flask
Since it was Remembrance Sunday, we also walked through the rest of the Museum complex, which included the local history museum. We saw lots of local history about everything from the American civil war up to WW II.

We arrived at our hotel in Windsor after everything was closed so we just went out for dinner and then settled in for the night. On the way to the airport in the morning we made a quick trip to Windsor Castle so Avelyn could check out St George's chapel. We also arrived right during the changing of the guard, which was a neat bit of pomp. :)

We then dropped off the car at Heathrow and hopped on our plane for Dublin.

Dublin - Day One

We arrived in Dublin late afternoon so by the time we bought our transit passes at the airport, caught the shuttle to our hotel and got into our room, all the touristy stuff was pretty much closed. So, we went for an amble through the Temple Bar district (which is basically the bar area), got some dinner and generally just wandered around before heading back to bed. Interesting tidbit though is that our hotel was literally right across the street from Christchurch Cathedral. Quite the view, and the bells on the hour were lovely.

The next day we did a hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city, and then hit Dublin Castle and the Chester Beatty Library.

The library was very cool and very disappointing at the same time. The collection is amazing. It has one of the largest collections of Asian and Middle Eastern scrolls, books and artwork in the world. It's a treasure trove for SCA scribes, and they had a couple of dozen examples of really neat leather bound books with really intricate covers (including neat cut-work covers with brightly coloured sub-layers of paper underneath - might be my next project).

Unfortunately no pictures are allowed and the leather stuff I was interested in isn't captured in their online collection of pictures. I did buy a book that has a couple of the items but I'm going to have to contact the library to see what else they have. I was rather irked to say the least.

We then ran through the rain to get to the Dublin Castle so we could take the tour of the viking remains under the castle. Dublin dates back to the viking period and while there's very little left from that period, they discovered the remains of a viking river embankment under the foundation of the medieval castle. It was pretty cool to see.

Our tour guide with a illustration of what
the viking town would have looked like.
The pile of rocks on the middle is the
viking-age embankment. The round wall
is the base of one of the towers build
several hundred years later.

Dublin - Day Two

We had a lot to fit in for our last full day in Dublin, so we hit the road early and got out as soon as sites started to open. We first hit Christchurch Cathedral since it was right near the hotel. It was amazing. They've turned the crypts underneath the cathedral into a museum, so they have all kinds of really neat stuff down there (plus the crypts are just neat with their stonework dating back to the 11th and 12th century.

Original 12th C tiles at
Christchurch Cathedral
The crypts under the cathedral.

We then moved on to Trinity College to check out their collection, including the Book of Kells. Again, I wasn't able to take pictures in the main exhibit but WOW! (I also brought a notebook so was able to jot down lots of interesting stuff) The tiny scale of the illuminations in the books on display was just crazy. I can't imagine how they managed to do such tiny detail. There was also an interesting display on the inks and pigments used in the period.

The other interesting point was that the exhibit explained that both the Book of Kells and another book on display (the Book of Armaugh) had coloured leather covers (both were red). We're talking about 8th C books, which pre-dates my earliest leather dye recipes.

After drooling on all of the displays, we moved on to the National Museum of Ireland, where they have a major section on viking materials, along with a fair bit of medieval artefacts as well. It wasn't the most captivating display I've seen but they certainly had a lot of artefacts. I took hundreds of pictures, including leather, bone and metal items. They also had an interesting selection of farics from the viking age, so I did what I could to get pictures of the weaves.

A set of leatherworking tools.
Undated but on display in the viking section.
A weight (used with a set of scales)
with a rabbit on it - 13th to 15th C

We didn't leave until the museum was closing. The next morning we caught our plane back to London and connected to our return flight to Canada with lots of pictures and way more in our suitcases than we started with. :)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

UK Trip Summary - Part 1 (With Pictures)

Warning: This will be a longer than normal post. :)

We've just returned from over two weeks in the UK, with stops around England and a couple of days in Dublin. There were lots of stops at museums to see all kinds of stuff, so I'm going to try to capture some of the most interesting things I saw, with pictures where possible. This is part one of the post. Part two will capture the second half of the trip, which includes the Reenactor's Market and Dublin, among other things.

Eventually I'll probably post my artifact pictures somewhere (possibly on Pinterest), so I'll add an update here with a link when the whole collection is available.


We'd hit a lot of the major museum stuff in London the last time we were there, but it's London so there's no shortage of things to do. :) The V&A was a bit of a bust because we went on the night they were open late but almost all of the medieval galleries were closed, so we didn't see much. I did get a picture for Her Excellency Catherine of a woven towel with pelicans on it. Otherwise a lot of our time was shopping and such.

Item #487-1884 - Towel dated 1400-1600
from the V&A

The highlight for London from a history/museum perspective was probably the British Library. The collection of documents on display is epic! Sadly, no pictures are allowed but the British Library has an extensive online photo archive of the collection so that's OK. Scribes should definitely check it out.


Portsmouth and the Mary Rose museum were on the agenda last time but we missed it because of a flat tire. As a result, we were really excited to go there for a couple of nights this time.

The Mary Rose museum is awesome and one of the best designed museums I've been to. They actually have the remains of the ship as the heart of the museum, and you can watch people working on preserving the ship. The museum is then setup parallel to the ship so you are walking through what would have been at that section of the ship as you walk the various levels.

Of course, for me the highlight was seeing the Purser's section, and the stick-purse. But there were tons of other leather items as well, ranging from jerkins, to shoes to arm guards and knife/sword sheaths. The collection is really huge and a goldmine of items.

The remains of the stick-purse at the
Mary Rose museum (item 81A0806)

We also did a tour of the HMS Victory, which was Admiral Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar. It's post-period for the SCA but very cool none-the-less.

HMS Victory at the Historic Dockyard
in Portsmouth

Weald & Downland Museum

After Portsmouth we drove to an open air museum near Chichester. This is where they filmed a large part of the Tudor Monastery Farm series, so it's really cool because you see what the living conditions and layout of various buildings might have been.

Lots of really neat things here. We learned about a period fruit crop I'd never heard of before. It's called a medlar and is related to the quince (Here's a nice web site reference about the medlar). We also had a lovely conversation with one of the volunteers named Tina, who showed us where they make all of the period garb they wear (and they are really hardcore about the accuracy of the details of their outfits).
Some of the medieval buildings
Merchant's shop (left-hand
building from previous picture)
Early 17th century craftsman's cottage
Early 15th century home. This is
the main hall.
So many ideas about stuff we could do here. It's incredible seeing some of this stuff, especially if you've watched the Tudor Farm series.


Oxford was probably one of our favourite cities on the trip (although Portsmouth was up there too). We were only there for a day so we had to squeeze some stuff in. On Mistress Keja's recommendation, we made a stop at the Ashmolean Museum, which was really good. Lots of pics of artifacts were taken, and we just happened to be there on November 5th, which meant it was particularly cool to see the lantern used by Guy Fawkes. 

Guy Fawkes' lantern,
as seen on the 5th of Nov
The other really neat thing they had was a major collection of fabric samples from the Middle East and India, which I'm sure a lot of people will find interesting.
India from the 13th - 15th century
(Ashmolean EA 1990.146).
We also stopped at Oxford's science museum, where we saw some period clocks and timepieces. But the highlight for me there was Einstein's chalk board. It's just a chalk board, but still.......

At the end of the night we took a guided tour of the Bodelian Library, which dates to the late 16th century.It's massive and epic and no pictures are allowed. :( But totally worth the stop, especially since we were the only people on the tour so we basically had a private tour guide.

After Oxford we drove off into the Midlands for our next stop, visiting with Robert the Blue and Lerthan and our trip to the Reenactor's Market. I'll capture the second half of the trip in my next post.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Gift for Robert the Blue and Lerthan (With Picture)

I haven't posted much to the blog lately for a couple of reasons. One is that we were in the UK for a few weeks on a vacation/research trip, so you can expect another post shortly about that. The other reason is that I was working on some things that I didn't want certain people to know about. :) This is one of those things.

As part of the trip, we were staying for a few days with some friends who moved to England a couple of years ago. When they left I had just finished working on my Ealdormere award badge patterns, and RJ had talked about wanting some belt badges for his awards (he has a Maiden's Heart and a Scarlet Banner).

I figured since we'd be seeing them I should probably do up the badges finally, and that I needed to do the same for Lerthan as well. I haven't yet figured out the engineering I want for the belt loops but I figured if I brought the raw badges they could applique them or use them for something else as well.

Here's the picture of the sets of badges that I did up.

The best part is that little Maggie (who's not so little any more) apparently really liked that badges and wanted to know why she didn't get one. So, I've now been commissioned to do a badge for Maggie with a rainbow on it. :)

Friday, 3 October 2014

QPT Update - Two months out

I'm making good progress on my QPT project with just under two months to go until the event (but three weeks of which will be a write-off since we'll be on holidays).

Three of the four pouches are completely done except for the drawstrings. The fourth is about half done. I've been making good progress since I can do the hand sewing when I'm watching TV (only jabbed my thumb a couple of times so far).

Once that's all done, I just have to take care of the braided handle and assemble all of the pieces. I still haven't been able to get the leather-braided knot to work for the end of the handle but I'll keep trying.

I'm not entirely happy with the way that the back seam of the pouches look, so I may adjust that when I do the final project for Spring A&S. I'm hoping the slightly thicker veg-tan will allow me to use a butt-stitch on the back seam instead of having to overlap to the two pieces of leather to sew them up. But for now it will have to do. (On the bright side, it gives me something to talk about if the judges ask me what I would improve).

I'll also have to take some time to finish-up my documentation. I did most of it a while ago but I'll need to adjust the section on the actual construction of the piece since I'm only presenting my full-scale mock-up at QPT.

On a sort-of related note, I've also signed up as a possible judge for QPT for the first time ever, so I'm rather nervous about that.

I'm less worried about the one category, as I've signed up as a judge for juggling/tumbling. Not sure there's likely to be many entries there but given I've actually trained at a circus school and used juggling to help make money for university, I'm pretty confident I can give some solid tips . I also did some initial research on period juggling equipment when I first started in the SCA so I've got some knowledge there as well (Oh god, now I'm thinking of doing an A&S project on period stilt walking - I need help).

I've also submitted my name for leatherworking and any leather dye projects people may do. That has me a bit more nervous, but I suspect its the usual feeling of not feeling like you know enough to really be commenting on other people's work. But, I've got pretty good knowledge of research materials and sources, so even if my actual crafting skills aren't that great I'm sure I can make some research suggestions at least.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Slow but steady wins the race - AKA the latest stick-purse update

Now that I've finished my surprise for Kersteken, it's time to really crack down on the stick-purse if I want to have something done in time for QPT.

Last night I resumed stitching up the parts for the stick-purse. What I can conclude is this is going to take a while. I was joking with AElfwyn about QPT and I said that it was going to take me about 50 hours of work just to do the full mock-up that I'm planning to enter (the proper purse with the good materials will be for spring A&S). I was joking at the time but now I'm starting to wonder if I may have been more accurate than I thought.

I've got all of the body pieces cut (call that about an hour of work already). Right now I'm working on sewing the pouchlets to the main pouch bodies. I'm about half done the first one and I've easily spent over an hour doing it. It's getting a bit easier as a get better at the technique but it's an odd stitch and hard to get things lined up correctly so the stitches are relatively even.

So, at the current rate it's going to take me between 5-8 hours of work (with four bags on the purse) just to attach the pouchlets. I suspect that's actually the largest chunk of time for any individual step, as the rest of the stitches are fairly straightforward.

The good news is it isn't something I have to do in the basement like the rapier sheaths, so I can take it with me to A&S days and such to work on it. I'll be heading out to fight practice tonight to be social but I'll be trying to finish the half-done pouchlet tonight at least.

For those wanting to see what I mean by the stitching on the pouchlet, here's my original test design post with pictures. Because you're coming up blindly through two layers of leather, and because the rectangular pouchlet piece needs to be sewn in a circle, it's a bit of a challenge to get everything cleanly done.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A Gift for Kersteken (with Pictures)

I haven't posted in the last few weeks because I've been working on a secret project, and didn't want to even hint at it because I didn't want a certain someone to guess I was working on something for them.

Now that we're all clear, here's what I've been working on.

This past weekend at Feast of the Bear in Toronto, a good friend was inducted into the Order of the Pelican for her service to the realm. Not only is Kersteken super deserving of the honour, but she's also a local fencer. In fact, she's one of the first fencers to get authorized that I had helped to teach. As far as I can tell, the only time you won't find her on the rapier list at an event is when she's in the kitchen, doing entourage or otherwise working (it seems like she's always working, but also always on the rapier list - maybe she has a clone. That would explain how she gets so much done).

Anyway, I decided that I needed to do something special for the occasion. That of course meant making her a rapier sheath.

I had to do a bit of plotting though, so I tricked Kersteken into letting me know how long her rapiers are. It went something like this:

Me: Woe is me, one of my swords is going to need to be replaced soon. Maybe I should look at getting a longer rapier. Kersteken, you use a longer sword don't you?

Kersteken: Go longer for sure! I can bring my extra one next week to practice so you can try.

Me: Cool. How long are they? I think my current one is 35 inch.

Kersteken: 41 & 42

Snort! Done and done.

Then I contacted Master Brand, who was able to track down the artwork for her personal heraldry (I don't think I'd ever even seen her personal heraldry before so this was neat).

I wanted the sheath to have the pelican badge on it. Of course, if you followed my badge carving project a few years ago, you'll know I didn't do that one because its insanely detailed. And this one was going to be really small, only a couple of inches high, so the cuts are all really small and finicky. That meant the first step in making the sheath was to figure out the badge.

Here's a pic of my practice attempt, which I think isn't bad:

I then carved the pelican on a band of leather (I didn't want to carve it directly on the long piece for the body of the sheath since I only had the one piece long enough to make it - no second chances there). Here's the finished piece painted and ready to be attached. BTW - Good call by Avelyn to use the mustard to mark the little beaks on the chicks so it's more obvious what they are!:

Once that was done, it was on to carving her heraldry onto the sheath, which was comparably easy. :) Biggest challenge was figuring out which parts to raise and which to push back into the background. Here's the tooling pre-painting:

And here are some shots of the main body piece before I started sewing it up:

Finally, here are some pictures of the finished piece once I glued and stitched up the join and did all of the touch-ups on the edges and holes. The band at the top is proportionately thicker than I usually do because I was concerned about making the pelican any smaller. But since Kersteken uses a much longer blade than I usually work with (this is designed to fit a 42 inch rapier), it is relatively proportional.

Overall I'm quit happy with how it turned out. There are some things that I would do differently next time, but I'll keep them to myself (although I've talked with Mistress AElfwyn about what I'd change). The most important thing is that Kersteken (I guess that should now be Mistress Kersteken) really, really liked it.

Now back to your regularly scheduled stick-purse updates. :)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Time to make some hay (well not literally) - QPT planning

Seems like not long ago I was at Kingdom A&S presenting my research into period leather dyes, but here we are only a few months out from the next Queen's Prize Tourney. So, time to great cracking if I'm finally going to have something to show for all of my research into the stick-purse.

Incidentally, I actually finally found some leather that should work for the final project. It isn't chamois like the original, but it's pretty darn close and completely period appropriate. It's 3/4 oz milled veg tan which means its much softer and more flexible than the 3/4 oz stuff I've found to date. Should work just fine, and its tool-able and dye-able if I want.

But before I go there I'm going to do up a full-size, complete mock up for QPT to get input on the design and construction. I'm going to use my garment weight pig skin (green since that's what I had the most of). I'll use veg tan on the handle and draw strings, and test out my period dyes to make sure they don't bleed on each other when I weave the handle braid, and I'll use my linen thread to make sure its strong enough for the project.

If you haven't been following the saga of the stick purse, I've been blogging about it for a couple of years now, ever since I pegged to the idea of making one after reading Purses in Pieces. Here's a link to the keyword so you can read back about the various starts and stops of the project. (warning, there's almost 40 posts over the years, so budget some time). :)

Ideally I'll be able to get some tips on the construction from some experts at QPT and then apply it to the finished bag, using the good materials, for A&S in the spring.

Where I am on the work:

This weekend I did a bit of prep work. I cut out the main body pieces for the four pouches and started attaching one of them to a bottom round made of veg tan. Then I remembered that I should probably attach the pouchlet first, so I put that on hold and will try to cut out the pouchlet pieces this week in a different colour (probably brown).

I have the wooden handle piece measured and cut out so can probably start working on that any time, although I'll have to decide what colours to use and make up some small batches of those dyes. Maybe yellow and black, or green and yellow?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Research into who did leather dyeing

Trying to flesh out (haha, get it) my understanding of who was responsible for the dyeing of leather.

The period leather dye recipes are found in books with a mix of other skills. The manuals include fabric dyeing recipes but also recipes for how to tan leather, make parchment and a variety of other skills.

So, who did the actual dying? Was it done by the people who processed the skins (the tanner or currier), was there someone else in the process (dyers guild or a leather dyer) once the leather had been prepared, or was the leatherseller or end craftsman the one who dyed the skins?

Based on the way the recipes work, it seems like they would be used on whole skins, not just painted on smaller pieces of leather for a specific project. Given the nature of the recipes and how they are documented, I suspect it wouldn't be the seller or end craftsman, but rather would have been delivered already dyed for their use - really not that much different from how we get our leather today.

It probably varied by region but I'll start my research with London given their structured guild system and reasonably good records (despite the 1666 fire).

Some research links:

English industries of the Middle Ages, being an introduction to the Industrial history of mediaeval England

Contains a reference to "leather-dyers" as an industry as it indicates they were banned from dyeing certain types of low quality skins.

History and antiquities of the Worshipful company of leathersellers, of the city of London: with facsimiles of charters, and other illustrations

e-Book copy of a resource about the leathersellers company in London. Could have useful information about how the industry was structured. May reference dyeing of leather. Will need to look through it carefully.

The Art and Mysterie of the Currier

Information on the historical role of the currier/leather dresser, which mentions that once curried the leather could be dyed or stained. No mention of who did the dyeing.

Craft Guilds in the Early Modern Low Countries

A book on the structure and impact of craft guilds in Neatherlands as early as the 11th century. For when I expand my research beyond London.

Craft-guilds of the thirteeth century in Paris

A book from 1915 on the craft guilds in Paris in the 13th century. It mentions the tanners, the leather dressers and the curriers as three separate guilds in Paris as early as 1160.

York’s Guild’s Names in the 15th Century and their Translation into Spanish

Section 2.1 discusses the translation of the names of guilds that dealt with leather. This gives some ideas of the leather-related guilds that were operating in York. Also a list of names at the end of the document.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How the SCA teaches us things (AKA I just totally had a brainstorm)

One of the common things you hear about the SCA is that at its hearts it's an education organization. In fact, that's really the entire basis for the organization's non-profit status.

And while it's true that many local groups do educational demos at schools and such to talk about history, I'm not really sure that's the bulk of the education that we do. We do lots of learning all the time as we research new projects or skills. A lot of that is self directed, but it's learning and education none-the-less.

Since becoming our Barony's Arts and Sciences Minister, I've been part of the process for filing quarterly arts and sciences reports. I've always wondered what the purpose of these reports was, and figured they probably just got dropped into a box somewhere as a piece of paperwork that was mandatory but never really used (although I do know that at the baronial level Their Excellencies do use these reports to flag people who might be worthy of awards). A comment from our Kingdom MOAS did bring it home though when she said that these reports are what actually shows that we are learning new things and meeting our educational requirements.

All of that to say not only did I learn a new thing, but just today I figured out a way to improve another project thanks to that new skill.

Let me go back:

Over the past few months I've been working on my first pair of turnshoes (as you'll see from previous posts on this blog). To make the turnshoes I had to learn a new leather stitch, called the tunnel stitch or the edge-flesh stitch. Here's a link to what the stitch looks like, but it basically means the needle goes only partially through the thickness of the leather before coming out the edge, so that it keeps the skin side of the leather un-damaged.

I finished the shoes about a month ago and didn't really think much about it other than I learned to make shoes, yay me.

But today Thor's hammer clearly smucked me upside the head because it finally occurred to me that the tunnel stitch is the answer to one of my construction questions about my stick-purse project!

The design of the stick-purse I'm trying to replicate is different from most, in that the pouches have round flat bottoms with a tube of leather sewn to them to make the pouch. Here's a previous post with a good view of how I was doing the bottom before (ignore the rest, I've since updated my design).

Other pouches with this type of bottom don't have the edge of the leather visible though, and don't have visible stitches on the bottom, so I wasn't sure how to cleanly sew the two pieces together. Now I know, because I can use the same tunnel stitch and basically do a turn-pouch (instead of a turn-shoe).

So, from doing my turnshoes, I certainly learned a bit about how to make shoes, and I learned a new leatherworking technique, but I also learned something about my stick-purse project, which was the last thing I expected.

I'd call that educational.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Catching up and Planning Ahead

I haven't posted here in a while, largely because I haven't really done much leatherworking lately.

I did manage to finish my pair of leather turnshoes and entered them in the A&S competition at Summer Siege in June, but never did take a picture of the completed set. :) Guess I was too busy taking pictures of the other entries.

Beyond that, I did a little of bit of tooling work on an award badge I'd started a while back, so its ready for dying/painting now.

I did have a bit of a idea on how I can engineer a way to mount my award badges on belt loops without needing to use glue or anything modern, and without punching holes through the actual designs. I need to use thicker leather to do it though so I can't test the idea with my current batch of badges.

For my secret project, I've done some design work and tested the tooling patterns a bit. It's going to test my ability but should be doable. I'm now in a bit of a holding pattern.

Not having done much leatherworking, you know I've been doing something with my time though, right?

Actually, I've been testing a bunch of period recipes for future use. We've always said we wanted to get a good collection of recipes that we've actually made so that we can pull off a feast with less planning needed (see the miracle Kersteken and Sven pulled off at Coronation as reference). I've made a good dent in that for sure, including a couple of recipes I don't think I've ever seen at a feast (probably because they would be hard to pull off in a normal feast kitchen - one needs a rotisserie and the other needs to be steamed, which would be hard to do for a feast of 40-50 people).

I need to start thinking about the QPT, which is coming up again this fall. My original plan was that my secret project might make a good entry but I'm not sure if it will be ready by that point at the rate we're going. I could do another pair of shoes, maybe with a bit more complexity to the design? Or, I could present where I am right now with the stick-purse (with non period-appropriate materials) and get feedback on that? The documentation is in good shape, I've just be stalled while I search out the right leather to use.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Completed right turnshoe - With pictures

I got a fair bit of work done this long weekend on the turnshoes. I now have a completed right shoe. It doesn't fit quite right (it's probably a half size too long), so I don't think I could actually wear it, but I definitely learned the process and can tweak the sizes better for next time.

When last you saw the turn shoe I had taken some thick felt and lasted it to check the pattern. I needed to modify it a bit to centre the heel correctly and make sure the side's met up. So this weekend I modified the pattern and cut the leather out. The following two pictures shows the shoe on the last before I started to actually attach it to the sole.

Once I did that I gradually loosened the webbing hold the shoe to the last a bit at a time, sew the loosened section to the sole as I went. That basically took me most of the afternoon on Monday. Once it was attached to the sole, I sewed up the side opening and turned it right-side out (although I may need to use thicker thread for the side seam as it broke when I turned the shoe - something they identified as a problem in the instructions).

Here is the completed right shoe. The leather's not period but I didn't want to start using veg tan until I knew what I was doing. Next up, the left shoe.

Oh, and if anyone's looking for a pair of 9 1/2 -ish turnshoes in red leather, I may have some in the near future. :)

Monday, 12 May 2014

Turnshoe Update - With Pictures

So this weekend I did some more work on my turnshoes. I popped over to Zeli's on Saturday and bought a new curved awl, since that makes punching the holes in the sole of the shoe easier.

I spent most of Saturday punching the holes in the sole with the awl. I had to pace myself because it's an odd motion and I was feeling it in my elbow. Oddly it was my left elbow, just from holding the leather while I punched the holes. I don't know why. It's still sore a couple of days later.

Anyway, after enlarging the pattern a bit I cut it out of some green felt we had in our craft box and then tacked it onto the last as per the instructions. The pictures below show what it looks like partially tacked down.

I discovered a couple of things.

First, I need to adjust the pattern more. The heel piece isn't long enough so it doesn't meet the side of the shoe properly. The heel itself needs to be shifted over a bit as well as it isn't centred properly since I adjusted the pattern previously. Not a huge deal.

I'm also a bit concerned that the shoe is going to be a bit too big. When I put my foot in, there was a fair bit of room on the sole (like an inch) when I pushed my toes to the end.  I'm hoping when I actually sew things on it will tighten it up a little bit but I've already cut the sole piece so I may as well keep going. Worst case, I can find someone these will fit and try again.

On the bright side, it certainly looks like a shoe, so that's an improvement over my first attempt a few years ago.

Friday, 9 May 2014

The making of the turnshoe - attempt number 2

It's been a while, with many other projects on the go, but I'm finally getting back to trying to make myself some shoes. I'm tired of wearing my modern black shoes to most events.

I last tried looking at doing turnshoes almost three years ago, but it didn't go well. Needless to say I was less than impressed by the instructions from the Complete Anachronist issue. So, thanks to a Facebook post by Lord Evan Quicktongue (I blame him for me spend more money on books), I found a set of pdf books from Talbot's Fine Accessories for a reasonable price on how to make various types of period shoes.

I also have an added advantage this time in that we bought a set of lasts a few years ago at Pennsic for my size shoe, which means that hopefully I won't have to do the tape my foot method to make a pattern this time.

The E-books from Talbot's cover a number of different shoe types, but I'm going to use their most recent one "Authentic Medieval Turn Shoes" as my guide.

First, I traced the foot shape of my last onto my thick leather (I'm using about 8 oz for the sole). Before cutting it out I put my foot into it to make sure it will work, so fingers crossed. I then printed out the pattern from the uppers traced it onto some scrap garment weight leather that I had lying around from a failed previous project. It looks ok but I'm concerned it's a bit too small and won't meet up properly when I sew it all together, so I've expanded the pattern a bit to give it about an extra 1/2 inch on all sides.

AElfwyn suggested using craft felt for my mock-up instead of fabric or lighter leather because it will replicate the feel of the leather I'll eventually be using for the uppers. I plan on using some nice red leather we bought in Hamilton a few years ago (not entirely period but for my first set of shoes it should work nicely).

This weekend I plan to trace out the new pattern on the felt and see how it works. I'll also probably have to make a stop at Zeli's tomorrow to see about a curved awl so I can properly punch the holes to attach the upper to the sole.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Thinking about research accuracy

I read an interesting article today in the Ottawa Citizen about the rise of fake peer reviewed journals and how they are affecting the scientific world. This was of interest to me from a work perspective since we're always having to answer questions based on "new research" that shows X or Y. But I also thought about it from an SCA perspective.

I pride myself at being pretty good at research. I've been able to dig out a lot of little tidbits of information on my leatherworking projects over the years. I mainly use book resources and museum artifacts as my base, but I also often do some pretty heavy online research, which helps me find artifacts and other people'e research. That being said, I'm not an academic, and I'm certainly rusty when it comes to using research journals as a major source of information. But this worries me.

As an amateur historical organization, I'm not sure how many people use research journals as a source of information. But if this trend is happening beyond the science journals and has been happening in the humanities as well, it's going to make our lives that much more difficult. Given that most of us are not professionally working in these fields, it's probably harder for us to tell whether a specific journal is a good source or not.

I guess it means the same rules apply whenever you're doing research, including online and through the journals. It's important to remember that just because someone wrote it down doesn't make it true.

When I'm doing research somewhere where there's a high risk of inaccuracy (for example, online) I mainly use sources as a way to point me to primary sources and artifacts.  I try not to base my opinions on other people's theories unless its backed up by solid evidence. I'll look for links to other more authoritative sources and then work back from there. Often I'll find references to books I know are good, or references to work or artifacts from museums in Europe. I'll then try to find those references or contact those museums for more direct information about the item.

I think applying these same techniques to research journals is probably a good idea.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

General A&S To-Do List

So many ideas and projects floating around, I'm updating my list of things to work on so I can keep track. Some of these have been on the list for a loooooong time. :) These are not listed in any particular order.

  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. Figure out how to fix Avelyn's armour/finish new lamellar or alternative
  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
  8. Start research for leather tooling project
  9. Start research for survey of period belt hardware (buckles etc)
  10. Finish stick-purse
  11. Try blue dye recipe from Plictho using lye 
  12. Develop period leather dye class for next Practicum
  13. Follow-up with Dragon Dormant about possible leatherworking class interest
  14. Fix Avelyn's boots
  15. Make silk personal and household banners for camping season

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A busy day at Kingdom A&S

So much happened at Kingdom A&S this weekend, I'll try to sum it up in a logical way. Overall it was a terrific event and the site was bursting at the seems with so many people entering the competition. In particular, there were a lot of Skraels in attendance this year which is nice to see given the event was on the other side of Toronto.

Important News

My biggest news from Kingdom A&S came outside of the official activities for the day. Mistress AElfwyn and I have been talking a lot about leatherworking, the arts and sciences and the SCA in general since before QPT and at A&S she officially took me on as her apprentice. This is a really big deal and kind of blows my mind.

We did the ceremony in a gap in the judging schedule in the afternoon, so the low-profile ceremony I was expecting turned into pretty much the entire event watching us. Eep!

For those who couldn't hear what we were saying, this is approximately what was said:

AElfwyn: I will provide you with the wisdom of my council, my guidance, and my protection.  You will have a seat at my table and shelter in my hall. 

In turn, will you pay heed to my words and follow my direction? (I said yes) 

Will you strive to increase your skills, learning from the wise, that you may better teach others?  (I said yes)

Will you share your knowledge openly and fairly? (I said yes with a bit of a smart-ass remark about my level of knowledge)

Before these witnesses here assembled, I will be to AElfwyn faithful and true. To study and faithfully apply myself to the development of my craft in the arts & sciences, in service, and in all the courtly arts. I further pledge to defend her and her manors and household in peace and in war, and through her the Crown of Ealdormere;   and never, by will nor by force, by word nor by work, do aught that is loathful to her, on condition that she keep me as I deserve, and that all remain faithful to the agreement made here this day. 

Given that AElfwyn won the Technological Sciences category, I think I'm going to have to up my game. :)

My Project - The Leather Dyes
The culmination of over a year's work sort-of came to fruition this weekend at Kingdom A&S. I say sort-of because the project is nowhere near done, as there are many more recipes to try and other colours to produce. But, that being said, the formal part of the work is done and I've presented it at A&S, so I can now continue the work at my own pace between other projects, and work on developing my leather dye class.

It'll be interesting to see the comments on a my judging sheets, I had AElfwyn and Master Dafydd as my judges so I know they'll be fair and give me good suggestions to improve. If I had it to do again I'd probably take a different approach to my project for A&S. Based on my initial conversations with my judges, and the way some other people handled the transition from QPT to A&S, I probably would have been better off producing an item made with leather dyed using my period dye. Of course, that was always the plan as I took on this project as part of my overall stick-purse piece. But the stick-purse just wasn't ready to go for this weekend.

In the end, I expect I would have scored higher that way but I always knew it was one of those projects that falls between core research (AKA a research paper) and end product, so wasn't the type of thing that would necessarily do well in a competition. But I've certainly generated some interest and discussion about the topic, which is a good thing. I go back to a conversation I had with Master Wilfrid about how surprised he was that I was able to show a green leather dye was available in period. To me, that's the point of this project.

I'll keep the approach in mind for next year though, as Her Majesty confirmed she plans to sponsor QPT again this year.

Some Gotcha Moments

Not specifically leatherworking related but I wrote my first two sets of scroll texts for this event and got to see the response to the scrolls live and in person. Lady Augusta had contacted me to do these ones personally, which was super awesome! She did a great job on the scrolls too.

The first award was for Avelyn. She was called up by Their Majesties during morning court and received her Scarlet Banner. She was rather shocked. I wrote the text to touch on a number of things, including her heraldry (which has a comet sinister on it, which is interpreted as an omen of doom), some references to her Pennsic fighting experiences and her interest in the Coppergate Helm (her blog is called Y in the Well as a reference to where the helm was found).

The second scroll was for Lady Emelote. She was called up in afternoon court to receive an Award of the Orion. She was bouncing she was so excited. In her text I touched on her sewing and cooking, and tried to reference some of her projects (including the 30 dishes for 30 years of Skrael that she served at Border Spat).

I'll post the scroll texts as soon as I have the final versions for those who'd like to read them in full.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My next research project - the concept

A while back I posted following a conversation with Mistress AElfwyn, where she asked me what my next project would be now that I'm almost done the formal portion of the leather dyes. Of course, I expect the leather dye work will continue for a long time, but I had posted some ideas of what I could work on next.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I ran into AElfwyn again at the local leather store, and she asked me a question about how I did my leather tooling. After showing her my technique using a swivel knife, we had a bit of a discussion about whether that would have been how it was done in period (using cuts as a basis for the tooling pattern).

So, the discussion has been sitting with me since then (with a few more brief exchanges with AElwyn thrown in about the topic).

And of course, I can't just leave a question like that floating out there without a solid answer. Based on the two books I have on hand it looks to be true, but I think this calls for a research paper. :)

So, here's what I'm thinking:

Research paper on specific decorative techniques that would have been used at various periods, along with possibly work on identifying the specific tools that can be documented to have been used.

Step 1: Online research to see what else has been done by others. This includes reading the Floriligium and other online resources. Will want to do my own cross-checks on anything but could give me a good idea of primary and secondary sources to check. Should also check research journals for relevant materials.

Step 2: Documentary search of sources identified in step one and review of materials.

Step 3: Museum research to look at artifacts to determine evidence of techniques and tools used (This would be a good time to do another trip to the UK to see them up close). If can't go in person, perhaps contact museums with significant leather collections to discuss if they have done any similar analysis.

Step 4: Analysis and writing up of research, and any follow-ups necessary. Probably for submission at a future Kingdom A&S.

So I figure that'll take me what...2-3 weeks. :) OK, maybe not.

I can then turn my research into a period leather tooling class to fit in alongside my Intro to Leatherworking I taught this year, and the period leather dyes class I plan to develop this spring. A pretty good triumvirate of courses I think.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Gulf Wars Gift Basket Contribution (With Pictures)

This post was written in advance but now that everyone is headed back from Gulf Wars I expect it should be safe to post without revealing any surprises.

At the major SCA wars, it's tradition that the various royals exchange gift baskets. Often these baskets are made up of various items made by the populace of the giving kingdom. We know in advance which kingdom's royals will be receiving the basket, so we often keep that kingdom's heraldry and colours in mind when donating the items.

This year for Gulf Wars, the recipient of Our Majesties' gift basket is Trimaris. Over the past couple of months, Her Majesty had placed a call out to the populace to for items for this gift basket.

Avelyn had the idea of donating a starter set of silk banner supplies, so we pulled together a quick collection of various colours of silk dye, along with some gutta.

I wanted to do something a bit more personal, so my contribution was of course a leather item. After some discussion, I came up with the brilliant (note: some sarcasm implied) idea of doing one of my rapier sheaths for the gift basket. Now, this isn't itself such a bad idea. The problem was that it took me so long to decide what to contribute that I'd left myself very little time to make the sheath. I basically only had a couple of weeks between when I made the decision on the sheath and Practicum (which was the last event I would see Her Majesty before she left for Gulf Wars).

For those that haven't seen one of my rapier sheaths, they are fairly time and resource heavy to make. The core of the sheath is a plastic plumbing tube that will help protect the sword from bending in transport. I then cover it with leather, which is tooled and dyed as appropriate.

There are now only five of them in existence (I have my original prototype, I gave one to the Barony when I stepped down as rapier champion, Lady Thora received a special one as a going away present and there's one in Dragon Dormant with the winner of the Border Spat tourney I ran two years ago). In all, they take probably anywhere from 10-20 hours of labour to make (actual work time, not including drying time etc.), depending on the complexity of the leather tooling and whether I have to develop a carving pattern or its something I've made before. They also require a particularly long piece of leather since you need a single piece that covers the length of the sheath - in this case about 3 1/2 feet long).

I wanted to tailor the sheath for Trimaris, so I also developed a carving pattern for their populace badge (thankfully their badge is an easy design - Thank You! to whoever designed it) and custom mixed a blue dye that would be the appropriate colour for their heraldry.

All in all I think it turned out pretty well. I hope Their Majesties of Trimaris like it, and that it will work for whoever ends up with it. I attached a little card with my contact information so who knows, they may even be reading this post some day (if so, Hi!!! Hope you like it).

And now, to the pictures:

Monday, 10 March 2014

Proof that I do stuff unrelated to leatherwork (with picture)

Lately most of my A&S work has been related to leatherworking, but every once and a while I do actually do some stuff in a completely unrelated area.

Something we've been meaning to do for a while now is work on our own banners for events. Most of the rest of the members of Talfryn have their own banners at events, particularly when we camp at Trillium War or Pennsic. They're lovely heraldic silk banners and they look really awesome.

Last year at Practicum, Avelyn and I took a silk painting class and over the last year we've been accumulating stuff to do it. I had ordered a starter kit from one of my suppliers for my leather dye pigments, but we've also discovered that our local art supply stores carry the stuff as well.

So, this weekend while Avelyn and Emelote were working on other A&S projects, I decided to do a sample sheet of the various colours so we could figure out which ones we want to use for our banners (there are 3-4 different shades for most of the colours and we didn't want to buy a huge supply of them until we knew which one was the right shade).

The image below is the colour chart before I fixed the dye and washed out the gutta. I used the black gutta so the lines separating the colours would stay in place. I've applied the colours in order of their numbering by Pebeo (the brand we can get locally), with the blank spots for colours we don't currently have in our collection, mostly because we wouldn't really use them (like salmon pink). We may want to get some of the browns though and test those, since we may need them for some pieces.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Ongoing Challenge of the Period Blue Leather Dye

The last piece of my Kingdom A&S puzzle is the blue dye. For those that have been following along, this has been a bit of an ongoing saga, with multiple attempts at various recipes.

This past week I made yet another attempt at getting the dye to work. I used the first recipe I tried from the Plictho, which is basically a mixture of indigo, water and gum arabic. Based on the input a received at QPT, I adjusted the recipe process by:

  • Grinding the indigo finer using a mortar and pestle
  • Using distilled water instead of just filtered tap water
  • Soaking the leather in alum water for a full 2 minutes instead of just a quick dip
  • Soaking the leather in the dye for 30 seconds rather than painting it on.
All of these changes got me absolutely no further than I was before, at least with the veg tan leather. It gives me a bit of a tint on the surface but it just rubs right off as soon as I touch it with a damp cloth.

Just for a test I did try the dye on a piece of the alum tawed leather that I ordered from the states. It seems to have worked much better, and doesn't really rub off at all. I suspect this is one of the dyes that was originally for tawed leather and that's why it isn't working on the veg tan.

As a last ditch effort, I took a piece of veg tan and let it soak in my dye jar for a full two hours, just to see if it made any difference. It didn't really do much, other than collect some of the sediment on the leather (which rubbed off pretty easily as well).

I think this recipe is a write-off at this point. I may try one more attempt at my second recipe, which uses strong vinegar, but I'm not particularly hopeful. If that doesn't work, I'll have to try some of the more challenging recipes that involve stronger chemicals like lye. But that probably won't happen for Kingdom A&S.

Still, I do have four colours working now (red, green, yellow and black), which isn't a bad project I think.