Artisans

SCA Artisan Love: THL Helena Sibylla (+ Cloth Button Tutorial)

23 April 2015

[This is the eighth in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

helena-sibylla

The infamous gingerbread

 

It all begins with gingerbread. I met Helena almost exactly four years ago at the first SCA event I attended after my return to the SCA. Well, at least I know she was there, because honestly the whole event was a bit of a blur for me. The reason I know she was there was because the Baroness of Cynnabar — whom I had also just met — enthused at great length about some amazing “documentably period” gingerbread that Helena had entered in the Arts & Sciences competition and for which she had won a first place. The obvious pride the Baroness displayed for this “Helena” person made me think, “Wow! She must be really talented! I want to do something cool like that one day , too.” It’s the little things that make a big difference.

 

THL Helena Sibylla does indeed make a big difference, for me and for many others her arts and service touch. Helena’s interests and talents are varied — most already know of her calligraphy and illumination, and many of us have been the recipients of one of her lovely scrolls (including myself—she made my Willow scroll). She also sews, embroiders, weaves (tablet and inkle), and makes clothing for herself and her husband.  She’s also well known for her gorgeous silk banners and her delicious baked treats (gingerbread is just one of the recipes in her book).

tablet-weaving

One of Helena’s recent tablet-weaving projects

One of the things I enjoy most about Helena’s art is just how much she makes things for other people. She’s currently working on embroidering the Pennsic 44 favors (as seen elsewhere on my blog) and has already made six herself. She paints banners for several baronies and creates heraldic patches for the Order of the Rose cloak. She bakes treats and makes largesse and creates all those scrolls. She just generally gives away much of her art. I commend her highly for her generosity and we are all so much better for it!

rose-cloak

Just two of the patches Helena has made for the Rose Cloak

She’s learned much of what she knows because of her participation in the SCA over the past ten years. A basic calligraphy class was one of her first SCA classes ever! And although she’s been cooking and doing embroidery since she was young, she’s learned much more about historical cooking and embroidery techniques because of the SCA. She’s driven to do and make things. When I asked what inspired her, she said, “I like to have something to keep my hands and mind busy and I like to have project goals to work toward. I really enjoy learning about the history of the crafts, objects, and techniques.  I like the process of making things and the satisfaction that comes from challenging myself to learn something new and completing a project!”

brickstitch-purse

Helena’s 14th century embroidered pouch

 
Helena has created many wonderful artifacts, so when I asked her to choose her favorite, it was a tough question to answer. Eventually she settled on her 14th century embroidered pouch she made for the Arts & Sciences Competition in A.S. 46 (2012).  She explained, “This was my first entirely hand-sewn item and I’m really satisfied with the way it turned out.” I remember this pouch well, as it was in the same competition in which I entered my first two entries and I was quite in awe of it.
 
She is no stranger to the A&S competitions, having entered and received excellent scores several times. Of late, she has been judging more often than entering, but I have hopes she will take on the challenge of a Pentathlon in the coming years. And it should come as no surprise to hear that Helena has been honored as the Barony of Andelcrag’s Baronial Arts and Sciences Champion. She is also a member of the Order of the Evergreen.
 
While Helena is not apprenticed to a Laurel, she is a protége to Master Straum von Bairzog — he and his lady, Baroness Ute von Munchen, are well aware of her varied interests in the Arts & Sciences. In the Quest she received from Master Straum, she has been charged with learning a new skill and teaching it to others. I’m looking forward to what she might be able to teach us next! Be sure to keep an eye on her blog, http://partifleur.wordpress.com, for news on her upcoming projects. This is also where you’ll find many photos and reports on past projects, including the recipe for the infamous gingerbread.
 
Helena will be teaching her Introduction to Brick Stitch Embroidery class at Andelcrag Althing this weekend.  She will also likely be teaching at least one class at Pennsic this year, probably the Self-Stuffed Button-Making class. If you can’t make it to her Pennsic class, however, she’s kindly provided us with a tutorial on how to make these historically accurate buttons!

 

Helena’s Self-Stuffed Cloth Button Tutorial

The steps for making a self-stuffed cloth button are simple, but the process does require some dexterity.  You should be able to do some very basic hand sewing with needle and thread.

Step 1 – Cut Fabric Circles. You will need to experiment with the fabric you want to use to see what size circles are needed to make the finished size button you want.  Thinner fabrics will crush more and require a larger circle to make a bigger button, while heavier fabrics like wool or corduroy will crush less so you can start with a smaller circle.  Use whatever you like to make circles the right size.

Step 2 – Stitch Around. With a needle and thread, make a running stitch around the circle of fabric  about one-third of the way in from the edge.  Use a thread heavier than regular sewing thread – you want something that won’t break when you pull firmly. There are several varieties of heavyweight or button thread available.  The Gutermann brand makes a heavyweight thread that comes in a wide variety of colors so you can coordinate with your fabric.  Finish so that the needle is on what will be the right side of the fabric.

Step 3 – Draw It Up. Use the thread to pull in the edges of the circle – make a little drawstring hat for your finger! Pull carefully so you don’t drag the knot through the fabric as you go. Work the fabric around as you’re pulling so the gathers are roughly even. This doesn’t have to be perfect – you’ll be able to even things out in a later step.

Step 4 – Tuck It In. Flip the gathered circle over, keeping slight tension on the thread so the gathering doesn’t come undone. Pull gently on the thread and at the same time, start tucking the raw edges of the circle into the gathered center, working all the way around as you go. This is what creates the stuffing for the button. As you work, keep tension on the thread to help the edges stay tucked. Keep tucking until all the raw edges are pushed into the center of the stitching.

Step 5 – Pull It Together. Once you have all the edges tucked in, gently pull the thread tightly to draw the button closed.

Step 6 – Stitch It Up. Now is your chance to lock everything together and adjust the shape of the button. With the gathered side of the button up, push the needle through from one side to the other and draw it tight. Do this at intervals around the button, keeping close to the bottom, gathered edge.

As you stitch, the button will pull together more tightly and become firmer.

Step 7 – Shape Up! Flip the button over and check the shape. If it’s not quite as round as you would like or if there’s a little bit sticking out oddly, it can be adjusted. Here you can see my needle pointing at a funny little bulge on one side of the button.

step7-buttons

To fix this, flip the button back over and make a stitch through the area sticking out to pull it in toward the center.

step7a-buttons

Presto! The odd corner disappears!

step7b-buttons

Do this anywhere you need to adjust the shape of the button until it’s as round as you like. These stitches will also help make the button more firm and solid to feel

Once the button is the shape you want, draw the thread to the center on the bottom side and knot it. Leave the tail of thread for attaching the button to your garment when it’s ready and your button is done!

 finished-buttons

Buttons, glorious buttons!

 

SCA Artisan Love: Lady Amie Sparrow (+ German Cape Tutorial)

8 October 2014

[This is the seventh in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

Those of us who study a particular topic or era, as I do, come to identify certain individuals as role models. Amie Sparrow is one of my role models in 16th century German costuming. Several years ago I found Amie online through her blog, where she posts dress diaries, research notes, and period images that inspire her. I find her information valuable and have tried to follow her example through my own blogs. And I believe I have shown considerable restraint in waiting until my seventh article in this series to focus on her and her wonderful adventures in 16th century Germany. But I digress … let me tell you about Amie!

Lady Amie Sparrow is a costumer and embroiderer from the Kingdom of Atlantia. Amie has been sewing nearly all of her life—at the tender age of 5 she made herself a skirt for Kindergarten—and began researching and making costumes in the SCA about 11 years ago. Her favorite thing to do is make clothing no one else — to her knowledge –has tried to reproduce before, which is an impressive feat in this day of blogs and digital photos. “It’s an intellectual challenge and a technical challenge at the same time,” Amie tells me. “The whole ‘experimental archaeology’ thing is really, really fun for me. When I make an outfit using period materials in a period way and discover that I am comfortable and warm enough when wearing the outfit, I’ve met my goal. And of course, when someone remarks that I look like I’ve walked out of a painting, it makes my day!

Amie-painting

Many of Amie’s images do indeed look like she’s walked out of painting. So it should come as no surprise that the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History itself asked Amie to create two early 17th century blackwork coifs for an archaeological exhibit. Now that is an arts and sciences project! Amie’s coifs were fully documented and the exhibit opened in May 2013. As far as I am concerned, being asked by a museum to reproduce an artifact is a penultimate achievement for a costumer! Amie tells me making these coifs was the most fun she’s had working on a project to date, and she notes that the Smithsonian found her because she posted a photo of one of her embroidered coifs online (if this isn’t a good reason for everyone to share their projects online, I don’t know what is).

amie-coif

Amie has made a lot more than coifs, though. Her favorite projects to date have been her German leather and velvet purses, a 1527 Gotha peasant dress, and her first sweet bag. My personal favorites are her 1577 Nuerenberg Gown and her array of German Woman’s Gollers, which you can learn to make yourself in the goller tutorial (see below).

velvet-purse-6x6

Amie teaches often. Of late, she’s been teaching German Peasant Garb classes, which is a topic in sore need of attention! She says, “I was asked to teach that topic a couple of months ago for The Shire of Isenfir so they could learn about German peasant clothing for their Gemütlichplatz event. I found that I could talk for two hours without a break on German peasant clothing.” For Pennsic next year, she’d like to teach a make-and-take class on German purses. Amie’s next project will be to make a new dress based on artwork by Freydal for Crown Tournament. And as the former Mistress of St. Anne’s Guild of Clothiers, she is running a Garb Triathlon at Atlantian Crown Tournament in November. Other items in the works are a research paper on German clothing, a woodcut with accompanying documentation, and possibly a pair of leather shoes. Sounds deliciously ambitious!

So what inspires Amie? She has many friends in the SCA who inspire her with their quest for knowledge and authenticity. When pressed for names, Amie says, “Chiefest among the German researchers/costumers are Mistress Sophia Kress, Mistress Katrine De Saint Brieuc, Baroness Emma West, Herrin Genefe Wolflien and you. Truly, I get inspired by a lot of people. If someone is making cool stuff, I want to know that person.” It will come as to surprise, Dear Reader, that Amie inspires me. I asked her for her words of wisdom, so I could pass them on, and this is what she told me, “Have No Fear! To paraphrase Frank Herbert: Fear is the A&S killer. Many people psych themselves out of participation because they think that their work is not good enough. Well, I’m here to tell you, there’s always somebody who is going to be better than you, so don’t worry about how good you are. It’s a waste of time. Enjoy what you do. Base your A&S in some kind of research and show off your efforts. If you don’t try, you don’t learn. Want to know what I do with my A&S failures? I keep them. I wear them. I use them as examples in classes.” Well said, Amie! Her favorite quote about artists is attributed to both Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” If you see something you want to make, then make it. You will succeed. All you have to do is try.

Amie lives far away from me within the Barony of Stierbach in the Kingdom of Atlantia, though I had the good fortune to meet her in person at Pennsic 42. She is apprenticed to Master Tristan Alexander and a protege of Mesterinde Karen Larsdatter. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Atlantian Order of the Pearl which honors and recognizes those subjects who have distinguished themselves by their efforts and their excellence in the arts and sciences of the period and/or their willingness to teach those same arts and sciences (this is a grant-level award, roughly equivalent to the Midrealm Order of the Evergreen). I’ve always been surprised that Amie is not a member of the Order of the Laurel yet, and I hope to see her so honored in the near future. Amie has a high standard of excellence and she frequently applies her knowledge for the instruction of the Society at large through her classes, guild, and writings.

 

German Woman’s Goller (Capelet) Tutorial

goller-tutorial12As I mentioned, Amie’s gollers are one of my favorite things she’s made. A goller is the German word for “yoke,” and as a clothing element it refers to a variety of styles, such as very short capes worn on top of clothing, vests worn both in and out of the clothing (i.e. partlets). For this tutorial, we’re using goller to mean a short cape worn by women in 16th c. German images. If you’d like to learn more about gollers, please read my more in-depth article on German Gollers at GermanRenaissance.net which I’ll be posting in a few days (along with a cross-post of this tutorial).

What You Need to Make a Woman’s Goller:

  • 30″ x 30″ muslin or other inexpensive fabric to make a test goller
  • 30″ x 30″ outer fabric (more if you need to match patterns), such as wool, damask, velvet, or linen
  • 30″ x 30″ lining, such as a wool, linen, or fur (fur goes on the inside to retain warmth)
  • 30″ x 30″ contrast fabric for trim, such as a wool or velvet (optional)
  • scissors, needle, thread, pins, ruler, chalk
  • clasp or ties to keep your goller closed
  • pattern (here’s two — one at size 10/12 and another at size 16/18): goller-pattern.pdf

goller-pattern

How to Make a Woman’s Goller:

1. (Optional) Using the pattern, cut out two fronts and one back from your muslin. Stitch together along the indicated areas on the pattern and try it on. Adjust as necessary. Also pay attention to the line of the shoulder, as you may need to adjust the curve there so that your shoulders fit inside. Modify your pattern as necessary.

IMG_7857

2. Using your customized pattern, cut out two fronts and one back from both your outer fabric and your lining. I used a rose damask for my outer fabric, and thus needed extra fabric to match the patterns nicely. My inside fabric is a slightly fulled dark red wool.

Cutting out the outer fabric

Cutting out the outer fabric

Cutting out the inside fabric (wool)

Cutting out the inside fabric (wool)

My outer and inner fabrics

My outer and inner fabrics, pinned and ready for sewing.

3. Sew your outer fabric pieces together along the orange dotted lines on the pattern. You could do a simple seam and press open, or a flat-felled seam (which is likely to be more period). I would avoid a French seam, however, as I think it would produce too much bulk at the shoulder. Repeat with the lining fabric. Do not yet sew the outer fabric to the lining.

4. (Optional) If your outer fabric will have any guards (trim), now is the time to add it. Don’t try to attach a straight line of fabric and curve it — rather, lay the sewn outer fabric on top of your trim fabric, smoothing it flat as much as possible, outline it with calk on your trim fabric and cut out the same basic shape from the trim fabric. Now cut the guards from the shaped trim fabric in even strips—I cut 3.5 inches from the bottom guard followed by 2.5 inches for the narrower guard. I used the remaining fabric to cut 3.5″ x 11″ strips for the two side guards.

Placing and pinning the guards

Placing and pinning the guards

5. (Optional) If you cut guards in the previous step, sew them on now. To do this, I first pinned the narrow guard into place using a ruler to make sure I was at a consistent distance from the bottom, then I sewed the top edge down, folded it over, pinned it, and sewed it down by hand in small, neat backstitches. The bottom guard’s top edge was sewn down, flipped over, and pinned (but not yet sewn). I did the same thing for the two side guards — sew, flip over, pin, but not sew.

Sewing down a guard

Sewing down a guard

6. (Optional) If you are using ties rather than cloak clasps, you’ll want to pin them in place now so that they are sewn in when you do the next step.

7. Now you attach the outer fabric to the lining, right sides together, along the blue dotted line on the pattern. I start sewing at the bottom of one side, sew up to the collar, sew around the collar, go down the other side, and sew roughly 1/3 of the way around the bottom curve. Then I went back to the other side and sewed another 1/3 around the bottom curve from the other direction, leaving 1/3 in the center back bottom unsewn (the red dotted line on the pattern). I then clipped the corners (to avoid bulk at them), turned the goller right side out, smoothed all my corners and edges, and ironed it flat.

IMG_7858

8. To finish sewing the outer fabric to the lining at that open edge in the back, fold each raw fabric edge along the red dotted line inside to create a nice seam, pin, and sew together using a blind stitch. When you’re done, remove the pins and iron to make sure it’s all nice and flat.

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9. If you’re using cloak clasps, sew them on securely now with doubled or extra strong thread. Be sure to sew through all layers of fabric for a better drape and fit.

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Finished goller

Finished goller

Time Spent: If you make a goller without guards, you can make this in under an hour. The guards add another hour or two, depending on how fancy you get with them.

Here’s me in my new goller at Red Dragon — it was 45°F and the wool goller kept me feeling quite comfortable! Many thanks to Amie for the wonderful pattern!

Genoveva-Red-Goller

SCA Artisan Love: THL Sayyidah Asalah al-Hina (+Henna Tutorial)

27 September 2014

[This is the sixth in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

Asalah

I write to you from a place of deep relaxation and contentment, put there by the amazing Asalah …. despite the fact that she is many miles away. How is this possible? I just applied her magical henna that smells sweetly of earthy lavender. It’s all over my hand, swirling in big hearts, exotic flowers, and adorable curly-qs. I feel light and happy and loved. I had no idea henna was so magical, and I may not ever have known had it not been for Asalah.

THL Sayyidah Asalah al-Hina (formerly known as Anabel de Berchelai) is an avid student of the Safavid period of Persia, making her a fellow 16th century enthusiast. Asalah is best known in our Society for her henna research and application, which she’s been doing for more than eight years now. She also enjoys making clothing and accessories, and in fact this year’s Kingdom A&S project were two pair of sock-boots.

sock-boots

When I asked Asalah why she does what she does, she told me, “I am inspired by many people and things, but my greatest inspiration is researching and documenting arts that, as of yet, have had little to no recognition.” I love this! It’s one thing to go down a well-worn path, but yet another to blaze a new one. She says this is what she loves most about her craft because “being a forerunner in research and experimentation really motivates me to do and try new things.”

Her favorite project so far isn’t so much a created thing as a living thing. She is growing a henna plant, from which she’s created her own paste. She was able to compare her fresh henna against that of store-bought, which is what nearly every is using these days.

henna-plant

In addition to her three Kingdom A&S first place awards in 2012, 2013, and 2014, Asalah is the recipient of the Order of the Evergreen. She is apprenticed to Duchess Rebekah MacTiernan. Asalah makes her home in the Barony of Roaring Wastes in the region of Pentamere within the Middle Kingdom. You can see more of Asalah’s projects and photos at her blog at http://gildedlotushenna.blogspot.com.

 

Henna 101 Tutorial

IMG_7170This year at Pennsic I took Asalah’s Henna 101 class, and from this class I’ve made this simple tutorial. It turns out that applying henna had an easier point of entry than I initially believed. Here’s how to do it:

1. Prepare some henna paste and put it in a small cone. Asalah had already done this for her students, but she gave us this information on how to do it: As henna recipes and practices were handed down generation to generation, the basic recipe has probably not changed too much since medieval times. The basic ingredients include henna powder (dried and crushed leaves of the  Lawsonia inermis plant), something acidic to release the plant’s dyes (lemons and limes were found to be used in period), and something sweet and sticky to help the paste stay on the skin (honey was the most common and readily available sweetener in the SCA time period). Essential oils that contain monoterpene alcohols are added to help bring out the dye as well as make the paste smell good!

A basic henna recipe

  • Henna powder (Jamila brand is recommended and does not need sifting)
  • Lemon juice
  • Essential oils (Lavender, Tea Tree, Cajeput are all mild and work well — I recommend lavender for its soothing and relaxing scent PLUS it’s been scientifically proven that men are attracted by the smell of lavender… mmhmm)
  • Sugar (table sugar, sugar substitute, honey)

In a glass, ceramic or plastic bowl mix together 20grams (about ¼ cup) henna powder and ¼ cup lemon juice. Stir with plastic or wooden spoon as metal may react to the acidity in the lemon juice. The paste should be thick, about the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes. Cover with plastic wrap (push wrap down over surface of henna so it is mostly airtight and add a second layer of wrap over the bowl). Let the paste sit in a warm area (70-80 degrees F) for 8-12 hours. Add 1-1 ½ tsp. of essential oils and about 1 ½ tsp. of sugar. Use a little less if using honey. Stir until smooth, cover again with plastic wrap and let sit again for another 8-12 hours, or until dye release. The surface of the paste will turn brown when it has achieved dye release. Stir in enough lemon juice, a drop or 2 at a time, until the consistency you would like is reached, similar to that of yogurt. Cone or bottle henna and use within 2-3 days or refrigerate up to a week or 2, freeze up to a year.

IMG_1335Mixing the paste

IMG_7165Mylar plastic with which to make a cone

Important Note: Do not ever use a product called “black henna” — these may contain chemical additives that can cause serious and permanent damage to your skin.

2. Wash the area you intend to apply henna to clear it of dirt and oils. If you’re not near a sink, an alcohol swab will do (that’s what came in Asalah’s kit). I prepared my left hand.

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3. Cut off a very small bit of the tip of the cone. The smaller the hole in the cone, the finer you can apply the paste and get more details.

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4. Hold the cone like you would a pencil. Apply light pressure at the base to squeeze a small amouny. Practice tracing patterns on a sheet of paper first.

IMG_7752

5. Touch the henna to your skin and slowly squeeze the cone as you move. I found I had the best results when I kept the cone lightly against my skin and went carefully and fast enough that the paste did not bunch up. I recommend you start a design in the middle of your area and work outward — that worked best for me.

IMG_7753I started with a modest little heart.

IMG_7754Then I added some curly-qs inside the heart.

IMG_7757And then a peacock!

henna-outsideI had so much fun I kept going and ended up with this!

henna-insideI still had henna left in the cone, so I went for broke and did the inside of my hand, too!

 

IMG_7167I wasn’t able to photograph myself applying it, but here is a student at Asalah’s class putting on her henna.

6. Once your henna has dried to the touch, but is not yet crackling and falling off, seal it with a lemon/sugar mixture. I mixed one tablespoon of sugar with one tablespoon of lemon juice, microwaved it for 30 seconds, then allowed it to cool. Then I lightly dabbed the henna with a cotton swab.

IMG_7758Mix equal parts sugar and lemon juice to make the sealer

IMG_4456My sealed design on my hand

7. Now let your henna paste stay on for as long as you can. (I am currently typing this article one-handed as my henna paste is still on). So far its been on for 2.5 hours, which is reallythe minimum. If you can, keep it on for 6 hours. You can leave it on overnight if you wrap it in some tissue.

8. When you’re ready, the paste can be scraped off. Do not wash it off and avoid contact with water for 12-24 hours, as getting the stain wet too soon may prevent it from darkening fully. It should darken into a reddish brown over the next 24-48 hours — to protect it, you can apply a thin layer of vegetable-based oil or beeswax-based balm before showering or bathing.

handThe reddish-brown stain of a henna application will last for 7-10 days if properly cared for

Tip: You can apply henna to wood, fibers, and hair, too!

henna-silk-fanAsalah’s silk fan with henna

SCA Artisan Love: Estelle de la Mer (+ Quill Cutting Tutorial)

24 August 2014

[This is the fifth in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

Sometimes when you first meet someone, they already seem familiar to you. It is a familiarity like the stars in the sky—they have always been there, always shining, but far away … until now. Estelle is like this. So it should come as no surprise her Society name means star. And in my eyes, she is a star of our Society.

Fair warning: There may be a bit of gushing in this article.

THL Estelle de la Mer (formerly known as Hiordis Ragnarsdottir) is one of those persons who does many things very well. Her first love is the scribal arts, and many of us have been recipients of her stunning scrolls. But she also does pewter casting, fingerloop braiding, silk painting, trichinopoly (knitted wire chains), knitting, bread making, and — it seems to me — nearly everything else. Just from my own perspective as a costumer, she makes beautiful clothing for herself and her family, including excellent pleatwork!

During one long car ride (from an A&S competition in which her scroll took a first place), Estelle told me about herself. She’s been in the SCA for quite a long time now—she joined in 1999 and received her Award of Arms more than a dozen years ago. But she’s been doing calligraphy since before she joined the SCA, having started at the tender age of 12. She began doing scrolls for Society members 8 years ago, when she asked Baroness Angelique if she could work on a backlog scroll. What keeps her doing it all these years is US — Estelle loves to see the faces of the people who get her scrolls. “The wonder and joy when they see their scroll is the best!” says Estelle.

There’s more to making a scroll, of course. It’s quite a lot of difficult work, and Estelle told me she finds the layout to be the hardest part. But she also confided something else: “And then I get the paint out, and it’s like something magical, like the art just grows out of your hand, and you’re just a conduit for this living thing that blossoms from the end of your paintbrush, and when you’re done, it’s like the scales fall from your eyes and you behold something that you have no clue where it came from even though you were there throughout the miracle of its creation.” Well said, Estelle!

I ask all the artisans about their favorite project. This is a tough question, paramount to choosing a favorite child. Estelle tends to favor her latest project, whatever it may be. When I asked, she cited her the scrolls she made for Baroness Colette’s Royal Vanguard and Mistress Arina’s entry into the Order of the Laurel, which are both shown below (click the images to learn more about how Estelle made the scrolls).

collette-full-scroll

Arina-scroll

Estelle maintains a gallery of her scrolls at http://www.estelledelamer.net/—I see over 25 stunning scrolls there, and I know this is not all of her work. Her web site also has handouts for her classes—there are at least eight available for download immediately! Her many other projects, from a  13th c. pleated filet hat and a girdle book chemise to silk war banners and a book binding sewing frame, are also detailed with photos.

One of the classes Estelle teaches is how to cut a quill pen, because she feels that most persons who lived before 1600 would know how to do this. It so happens she taught this at Pennsic this year. Alexander and I had the good fortune to take her class and I was amazed at both how simple it was and what beautiful writing we achieved from the finished quill pen. So I present a short tutorial on how to cut a quill pen based on THL Estelle de la Mer’s class taught on July 21, 2014.

 

Quill Pen Cutting Tutorial

First, you need one wing feather of a goose, turkey, seagull, crow, swan, owl, or hawk. Ideally you want the “finger” feathers, which are the five longest feathers of the wing. If you don’t happen to have any large, dead birds lying about, you can get bags of Indian feathers from your local craft store, and from those handful of feathers you’re likely to find one usable feather — you’re looking for an intact, uncrushed tube and a significant portion of the transparent part (the cuticle).

You’ll also need a “pen knife,” a knife that got its name from, you guessed it, cutting quill pens. If you don’t have pen knife, a Swiss Army-style knife or an Exacto knife also works (and it’s what we used). You are looking for an extra sharp knife without serrated edges.

Other items that are useful are scissors, tweezers and nail clippers!

Step 1 (Optional): Temper your feather by dipping it in a can of hot sand (heated in an oven at 150°F). Tempering the feather’s shaft makes it tougher. It’s not always necessary to do this, especially when you are first learning — it’s also possible your feather’s shaft has tempered with age. If the shaft is opaque, not transparent, it’s probably good to go. We did not do this step as our feather shafts were already opaque — here’s what we started with:

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Step 2: Strip the feathers off your quill. I know they are lovely, but you’ll get more space for your hand if you remove most or all of the plume. Estelle showed us that you can simply grab and pull, and the plumage will strip right off. But if you have a problem getting them off, use scissors. If the bottom of your feather’s shaft is ragged, you can also cut a bit of that off.

2-quill-feather-removal

Step 3: Find the orientation of your pen. Hold it in your hand as you would a pen, with the curve of the feather pointing down, like this:

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Step 4: Make the first cut. Hold the point away from you and, starting from the top, cut a steep angled cut away from you. The cut should go all the way through the tube and should be as centered on where you want the top of your quill to be. Estelle says you need to put quite a bit of force behind it to get a good cut. Here’s my first cut, which was NOT quite long enough.

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Step 5: Now open up the tube from the cut you made in step 4, making it long, slightly curved, and tapered a bit. The sides should be a bit curved. Here is Alexander opening up the tube with the knife:

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Step 6: Shape the nib. You want to slowly carve away the sides until you get a good tip. A wider tip will dull quicker, but a narrow nib is messy — you have to experiment and find what works for you, according to Estelle. Here’s a nicely shaped pen that Estelle made:

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Step 7: Lay the feather so that the barrel is supported by your table, and with the blade perpendicular to the tip of your quill, carefully shave off the inner tips and outer curve of the feather, as shown below (image courtesy of Estelle). This gives your quill a thinner hairline. You will have to turn the feather over to get the other side, but the procedure is the same. Supporting the quill tip with a table or something sturdy is paramount, you can easily bend it at this point with too much pressure.

curving

Step 8: Cut the tip of the shaft flat. Estelle had us lay the feather tip flat and use a knife to cut the tip until we heard a snap. The wood table we were working on was too soft, so we had to use a piece of metal (all we had at the time was the blade of broad knife, which worked in a pinch).

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Step 9: Try our your new quill pen! Here’s we got:

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I was most impressed with how beautifully our quill wrote, despite our complete lack of experience (neither of us have done any scribal arts in the SCA).

Wondering about a slit? Estelle doesn’t recommend that you cut a slit for smaller nibs—it makes them splay and bend.

Thank you for teaching us this important skill, Estelle!

Estelle is apprenticed to Mistress Dulcinea Maria Magdalena von Muhlberg y Aguilar in calligraphy and illumination. She is a member of the Order of the Evergreen and the Order of the Dragon’s Heart. She is currently the Minister of Arts & Sciences and the Webminister for the Canton of Rimsholt as well the Dragon Signet of the Middle Kingdom. Her works have garnered two first places at Kingdom A&S (both illuminations). She tells me she is considering entering the Kingdom A&S Pentathlon one day—I hope she does, for I would love to see what she produces for such a challenge!

SCA Artisan Love: Gwenllian Annwyl (+ Cloisonné Tutorial)

8 July 2014

[This is the fourth in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

gwenllian-artisan

Never underestimate the power of teaching. I first met Lady Gwenllian verch Rhydderch Annwyl at a class I taught on German costuming to the Barony of Red Spears. A few weeks later, as I was perusing the class list for Baron Wars, I saw this:

Gwenllian Annwyl – Intro to Cloisonné
Create a cloisonné enamel piece of your own! Students will be provided with materials to complete a piece. Class limit:15, Time: 3 hrs-ish, Age limit: 15 or with parent supervision, Cost: $20 – includes kit, handout, instructors materials, and use of kiln

I was intrigued by the idea of learning to craft and complete a cloisonné enamel piece, an art form I’ve long admired but felt must be particularly complicated. And she was bringing a kiln, too? This was simply too good not to try. And I did … and it was more amazing than I thought it would be. Gwenllian proved to be an excellent teacher, offering just enough information without overwhelming us, answering all questions cheerfully, and providing everything we needed to create beautiful cloisonne pendants.

And as it turns out, Gwenllian is well educated in the art of enameling. She graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry/Metals/Enamelling, and continues to practice her skills today with cloisonne and decorative metalwork, including a few coronets. But her interests are not limited to these arts — she also enjoys costuming, brewing, calligraphy, illuminations, and heraldry. When I asked her who inspired her to learn more and push herself further, she named Mistress Cerridwyn verch Ioward for her attention to detail and her inspiration to research and pursue the answers to that all-important question,”How were things done in period?”

Not surprisingly, teaching is what Gwenllian loves most about her art. “Mine is an art that looks complicated, but can be fairly easily accomplished in a decent amount of time,” says Gwenllian. “When my students are just SO excited about this awesome shiny thing they’ve made and are just so proud of it, I LOVE it!” And that was certainly my experience — I was so enthralled with the pretty pendant I made in her class that I showed it to anyone and everyone who was willing to look!

Gwenllian’s favorite artifact created so far is the Byzantine-style cloisonné medallion she entered in this year’s Kingdom A&S Competition (and for which she took a first place). “It was a bit tedious,” she confesses, “but so satisfying. And it’s inspired me to do more pieces, try new and more period techniques of firing the enamels, and try to grind my own enamel powders.” Her medallion is really quite delightful, and looks remarkably like those that appeared on the original votive crown of Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium.

byzantine-medallion

To learn more about Gwennlian’s arts, be sure to visit her blog at http://hareandfox.blogspot.com. You’ll find excellent in-progress photos of her Byzantine medallion there. Gwenllian, who has received the Order of the Willow award, is apprenticed to Mistress Helewyse de Birkestad and plans to teach her Cloisonné Enameling class again at Pennsic 43 on August 4th at 5:00 pm and on August 6th at 4:00 pm, both in classroom 4—the class is most definitely worth the three hours and you’ll leave with a simply gorgeous piece of cloisonne with your own design!

How to Make a Cloisonné Pendant

cloisonne-pinterestThis step-by-step tutorial is based on Gwenllian’s class on June 21, 2014 — the photos and steps are those I took at the class. First, what is cloisonné’? The dictionary describes it as enamelwork in which colored areas are separated by thin metal bands fixed edgewise to the ground. The word enamel comes from the Old High German word smelzan (to smelt) via the Old French esmail. The ancient Egyptians applied enamels to pottery and stone objects, and sometimes jewelry, though the last less often than other ancient Middle Eastern cultures. The ancient Greeks, Celts, Georgians, and Chinese also used enamel on metal objects. Leading up to cloisonne in particular though, enamel was at its most important in European art history in the Middle Ages, beginning with the Late Romans and then the Byzantines who began to use cloisonné enamel in imitation of cloisonne inlays of precious stones (Faux stones?! Oh wait, we still do that today). This style was widely adopted by the “barbarian” peoples of Migration Period northern Europe. There are many examples of cloisonne that is very comparable to garnet inlay. The Byzantines then began to use cloisonne more freely to create images, which was also copied in Western Europe.

So let’s make something, shall we? It’s not as hard as it looks.

Cloisonné Enameling Materials:

 

Step-by-Step Instructions for Cloisonne Enameling:

Choose your design. Start by outlining your copper circle and then draw your design inside it. Keep things simple, as each line means a piece of copper wire. Note that you are not required to have wires around each spot of color, only wires between different colors — this means you can have a color/design to right to the edge without needing wire there.

cloisonne-design

Follow your chosen design above by bending and cutting the wire to match your lines. Use your pliers and wire cutters for this step. This takes some time to get right — be patient with yourself.

cloisonne-wire

Apply an light brushing of oil to the copper circle, then transfer the wire one piece at a time to the prepared surface of the copper. This will help keep the wires from shifting when you pick it up in the next step.

Fire your piece in the kiln to approximately 1800°F long enough for the clear enamel on the piece to soften enough so that the wires ‘sink’ into the surface. This enamel has a higher melting point, so the wires should not move while firing later colors.

cloisonne-kiln2

Allow time for the piece to cool sufficiently. The advantage of working with the smaller size is they take a shorter time to cool off. Mine took about 15-20 minutes.

cloisonne-wire-cooling

Mix some of an enamel with a small amount of Klyr-fire. Using a small paintbrush, carefully apply the enamel to your piece. Nudge the enamel into position as needed. Continue until you have the enamel colors placed on your piece up to the height of your wire, but not over it. The goal here is to create an even layer of enamel all over the piece, out to the edges. Do not try to cover the cloisons as you will accomplish this on the next few firings, and doing so can make the enamels jump the fence to where you don’t want them.

cloisonne-ready-to-color

Let the piece dry completely. Any moisture left may steam or even boil if placed in the kiln and can create issues with your piece. The piece can be placed on top of the kiln however, or in any other hot place to dry faster.

Fire the piece again once it is dry. Place the piece into the kiln and let it fire until the powdered enamel becomes smooth and glassy. Once done, remove the piece from the kiln and set aside to cool.

cloisonne-first-pass

Repeat steps 6-8 until you have built up enough layers for the surface to be even with the wires. My piece required three applications of enamel. Gwenllian says that another finishing technique is to build up the enamel just over the wire, and stone (sand) it all to one flat surface—start with a stone or coarse sandpaper, and build up to finer grits until it is smooth and polished. Please note this needs to be done as a wet-sanding method because of the glass.

cloisonne-cooling

At this point you also have the choice to let your edges keep the oxidized look from firing, or you can file or sand them to the clean copper again, this is up to personal preference. I chose to leave mine as they were since I’d applied the enamel all the way to the edges. You can now loop a bail through the hole and show off your piece.

Here is my completed cloisonne pendant!

cloisonne-pendant

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion with us all, Gwenllian!

Genoveva-Gwenllian

SCA Artisan Love: Lady Heodez (Plus an Easy Moisturizer Recipe)

23 June 2014

[This is the third in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

heodez-artisan

Pumpkin water for wrinkles? Almond oil for softer skin? All this and more I’ve learned from Donna Heodez Sofonisba de Talento Minotto, who weaves her particular brand of magic in the time-honored art of herbcraft. Fascinated by cosmetics since the age of 12, Heodez is studying medieval and Renaissance cosmetics made by women through the ages. “I find the journals they left behind, often called ‘books of secrets,’ fascinating.” writes Heodez. “The wealth of beauty recipes out there is amazing.”

Learning how our ancestors created and applied cosmetics isn’t always easy, however. Most journals are not in English, meaning Heodez has to translate them for starters. Then comes the fun of figuring out quantities, which more than often are not listed. And let’s not forget that our ancestors didn’t always realize (or care about) the toxicity of their ingredients—the use of white lead for a fair face in the renaissance lead to disfigurement and death. To avoid subjecting us all to this particular recreation of the period, Heodez must research reasonable substitutes. She says, “The fun is in the figuring out, despite the frustration sometimes.”

So what is Heodez’s favorite discovery to date? She loves “discovering that we still have the same beauty concerns centuries later” as our for-bearers. Worrying about how we smell or about our gray hair is time eternal, apparently. Remedies for our present-day concerns were concocted and many of them actually work. And thus learning what worked for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother can work for us, too!

Making mouthwash from a 16th c. recipe

Making mouthwash from a 16th c. recipe

Lady Heodez’s cosmetic projects during the last two years are extensive, evident by her own modern-day Book of Secrets, the  Segreti del Pavone (“secrets of the peacock”) blog. Here you’ll find recipes for a wrinkle reducer, lavender perfume, hand whitener, underarm deodorant, rose soap, acne soap, blusher and lip color, diet drink, hangover remedy, velvet stiffener, cough drops, facial cream, shampoo, conditioner, face whitener, incense, hair remover, lip balm, astringent, mouthwash, grease stain remover, tooth whitener, and scented hair powder. This is a veritable pharmacopeia of wonders! Imagine yourself making a variety of Heodez’s beauty products for your next camping event to really take your immersion to a new level. This is one of my personal goals for Pennsic!

Heodez experiments with using the water from boiled dried peas to remove grease and oil spots from fabrics (it works!)

Heodez experiments with using the water from boiled dried peas to remove grease and oil spots from fabrics (it works!)

And I would be remiss in leaving out Heodez’s interest beyond cosmetics. She’s redacted recipes for stiffening velvet and making artificial pearls. I myself made fake pearls based on her recipe over a year ago — that was a fun adventure! Heodez also enjoys sewing, embroidery, and dance. She is an apprentice to Mistress Sarafina Sinclair.

Heodez is a fellow Midrealm A&S Pentathlon entrant, having won the Kingdom A&S Pentathlon last year and inspiring me to enter this year. She was also the Middle Kingdom Arts and Sciences Champion and the Middle Marches Baronial A&S Champion in 2013. She is a member of the Order of the Silver Oak. I personally feel her leaves shine green in all four seasons — if you agree with me, please do let Their Majesties know.

 

How to Make a Hand Softener/Moisturizer:

Lady Heodez shared a recipe for a hand softener from the late 16th century.  She says it was  very popular when she bring it to Craftperson’s Faires and Pennsic. It’s exceedingly simple to make. The recipe is from The English Huswife (which contains “The inward and outward Vertues which ought to be a in a compleate Woman”). Here’s how you do it:

1. Procure some almond oil (sweet), whole cloves, and a small glass jar. Historically you would have ground almonds to release their oil. I bought all from my local Whole Foods store.

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2. Fill your jar 3/4 full of almond oil, then place 2 or 3 whole cloves in the jar and seal it tightly.

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4. Place this jar in your sunniest windowsill for about four days.

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You have now created a hand softener which is lightly scented and long lasting.  You only need a small dab, so a little jar lasts a long time.  It also makes a wonderful facial moisturizer during the winter.  Almond oil does not clog the pores and is hypoallergenic.

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The oil has a lovely scent of cloves, but not at all overpowering. I’ve been applying the oil to my hands for several days now and they are indeed very soft! This little bottle will be going in my toilette kit for Pennsic!

Lady Heodez was nominated for this project by THL Philippa Montague, who wrote to me to say, “in addition to two pentathlons in two successive years, [Heodez] teaches classes and sends her students home with handfuls of samples and recipes. (The medieval bilberry deodorant was as startlingly effective as advertised, plus it didn’t freeze when everything else froze at Gulf Wars!)”. Would you like to nominate someone to be featured here? Leave a reply or contact me directly!

SCA Artisan Love: THL Eva vanOldeBroek (+ Beginner Sprang Tutorial)

8 June 2014

[This is the second in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]

eva-vanoldebroek

The Honorable Eva vanOldeBroek tells me she is “craft ADD,” but I beg to differ. Learning just one of her arts — sprang — took a considerable amount of focus and dedication on my part. I think a better term for this talented artisan would be “renaissance woman” of the A&S world! Her interests include the fiber arts, sprang, knitting, embroidering, sewing, weaving, calligraphy, illumination, sugar paste subtleties, and mead making!

eva-garterLady Eva hails from the Canton of Rimsholt in the Barony of Andelcrag some distance to the west of me and I first became aware of her arts through photographs. At several events last year, Eva wore the fretwork veil you can see in the photo above. It was absolutely lovely and instantly captivated me, making me curious about her. It wasn’t long before I began seeing her at events, always with a ready smile for me and anyone! Eventually I learned that Eva has been practicing her craft for over a dozen years in the SCA.  Eva started in the SCA in 2000, when she was first inspired to try inkle weaving by THL Cassandra of Glastonbury, who also introduced her to sprang years later. Artisans like Cassandra inspire Eva, who says, “I keep seeing such awesome new things that I just have to try them myself. There is always a growing list of skills I simply MUST have, mostly because I’ve seen someone doing really great work in it.”

When I asked Eva what her favorite project has been so far, she named her sprang garter that took a first place at Kingdom A&S last month. “The garter was a challenge, not just in actually braiding, but in figuring out the precise pattern,” says Eva. “There was a bit of trial and error before I decided on a technique that would closely match the original piece.” You can see a portion of the intricate sprang garter in the image above and a closeup to the right.

Eva really has a wide breadth of skills and knowledge. A look through her photo archive shows a fashion doll, a knitted beret, embroideries, a variety of Dutch headwear, fun sugarpaste projects, silk paintings, dozens of illuminated scrolls, and yards and yards of sprang. Here are just a few of her projects:

eva-embroidery eva-scroll eva-doll

You can see more of Eva’s work, and read about her projects and progress at her web site at http://evavano.dreamwidth.org. Eva was Andelcrag’s Baronial A&S Champion in  2009-2010, the recipient of the Order of the Evergreen, a consistent entrant and judge in our Midrealm A&S competitions, and a frequent teacher of classes on sprang and veils.

As I do, I asked Eva is there was something she could teach me. And as it happened, she was teaching a class that weekend in basic sprang. I took her excellent class and learned the basics. I went home, took photos of each step, and wrote down the directions so you could learn, too!

Beginner Sprang Tutorial (as taught by THL Eva van Oldebroek)

First, what is sprang? Sprang in a very old method of weaving (or braiding) threads together. Sprang looks a bit like netting or knitting in some forms, but sprang uses only warp threads — no weft. Sprang goes back to the Bronze Age and was still in use as late as the 16th century (and beyond). Eva told me that sprang can be used for garters, belts, hairnets, stockings, scarves, and other purposes where a flexible material is required. Working sprang reminds me a bit of a solo cat’s cradle game, if you remember that. Threads are pulled out and twist as you go along, creating an intriguing interlock.

Eva’s classes include a simple starter kit consisting of a frame made of PVC pipes and two dowels upon which she’s already wound the yarn. But for those of you at home who cannot get to one of Eva’s classes, here is a materials list:

  • Basic cotton yarn
  • PVC pipe pieces with a diameter of 1 inch (two  2’foot long pipes,  two 12″ long pipes, and four connectors — you can buy these inexpensively at home improvement stores)
  • Two 12″ wood dowels
  • 10 wooden sticks (like the sort you can buy for kabobs)
  • Instructions (Basic Sprang Handout PDF)

1. To get started, suspend your two dowels to the top and bottom of your frame like shown below. Tie it securely, but make sure you can untie it easily later (i.e., slipknot) as you’ll want to adjust the tension.

sprang-frame

2. Now tie one end of your yarn to one end of one dowel, then begin wrapping the yarn (thread) around the two dowels in a figure-8 pattern, moving across. This is called warping. Continue until you have a good number of wraps — the one from Eva had 24 loops. When you’ve reached the end, tie the end off on the same dowel as your first tie.

sprang-frame-warped  sprang-frame-warped2

Note: Eva’s warp used two different colors, which was achieved by wrapping the center section separately in a different color.

2a. Check the tension on your warped threads. A lot of my problems were caused by the tension either being too loose or too tight. You want the threads to be stable enough to work with.

3. Now let’s organize our threads — insert one of your sticks into the top end of your threads, pulling the back ones forward and the front ones back alternately, as shown below. This really helped me get my threads separated!

spring-organize3

spring-organize

4. Now it’s time to sprang! You will be alternating two rows of twists. Starting with the first row, pull the two rightmost back threads forward and the one rightmost front thread back, in that order, like shown below. You can use a stick or your fingers — I preferred to use my fingers, but it was harder to take a photo of that.

sprang-row1asprang-row1

4a. Bring the next back thread forward and the next front thread backward. Repeat all across the row.

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4b. Insert a second stick in the same spot as the first, as shown here:

sprang-row1-dowel

4c. Push the lower stick all the way down to the bottom and the upper stick all the way up to the top, like this:

sprang-row1-dowel2

5. Now it’s time for the next row. This time instead of bringing the two rightmost back threads forward, you bring just the one rightmost back thread forward, like this:

sprang-row2bsprang-row2

5a. Bring the next back thread forward and the next front thread backward. Repeat all across the row.

sprang-row2-stick3sprang-row2c

5b. Insert another stick in the same spot and push the lower stick down and the upper stick up, just like in step 4c.

6. Continue alternating steps 4 and 5 until you run out of space (the twists will eventually meet in the middle), adjusting tension as necessary. If you lose your spot (forget whether you should start with two back threads or one back thread, just check to see how many threads you started with last time. In the photo below, you can see that I started with TWO threads on my last row (I’ve circled those two threads to make it easier to spot them), so my next row would start with one.

sprang-finding-place

7. As you work each row, check that you got it right before moving on. I often would skip/jump a thread by accident and need to start over. Here’s what that common mistake looks like so you can identify it:

sprang-finding-mistakes

8. When you get to the middle, Eva says you can either use a crochet hook and “chain stitch” the threads together, or run a thread through the center. I chose the latter.

sprang-middle-thread

9. Remove the sticks.

sprang-no-sticks

10. Cut a long length of yarn and carefully thread it through the top loops as you remove the top dowel. Repeat with another piece of yarn for the bottom dowel.

sprang-top-loops

11. You can leave it like this, or you can make your sprang into a pouch! To make a pouch, fold your piece in half in the middle (where you inserted that yarn in step 8), thread a large-eye needle with one end of the middle thread, and begin stitching up the sides through the loops on the ends. When you get to the top of the side, take several more stitches in the same spot then knot it securely. Repeat for the other side.

sprang-sidessprang-sides2sprang-sides3

11a. To turn the top strings into a drawstring, switch one of your top-loop strings so it enters/exits from the opposite side of the other string. This enables you to pull on both and tightly cinch the top.

sprang-pouch

Tada! A beginner sprang pouch! Many thanks to Eva for teaching me how to do this. If you would like to learn more about sprang, check out Eva’s Advanced Sprang Techniques page. Eva also recommends the Sprang email list at Sprang-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, which includes several useful files including a copy of a Sprang Chronology started in Collingwood but added to by Maedb ingen Dungaile (also found here http://www.florilegium.org/?http%3A//www.florilegium.org/files/TEXTILES/sprang-chrono-art.html), and a very thorough bibliography (also found here http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/sprangbib.html).

THL Eva is a student of Mistress Gytha Arnarsdottir (also known as Catherine of Chester) and resides in the Canton of Rimsholt.  You can reach her through her web site at http://evavano.dreamwidth.org/.

Please help share the love for A&S and the artisans who create it by sharing this post with your friends! And if you know of an artisan that deserves to be called out, please post here and spread the word-fame!

SCA Artisan Love: Halima, The Felting Lady

28 May 2014

[This is the first in a series of articles on SCA artisans who inspire, teach, encourage, and/or make the Society a better place for us all! I learned so much through other artisans while preparing for the A&S Pentathlon, and now it is my turn to shine the love on them, learn more about their craft, and introduce them to you.]


THL Sayyida Halima bint al-Rabi’i, or “Halima” as she is known by most, is the very first artisan I noticed as a newcomer to the SCA. Her work was on display at my first event, and I remember staring at it for a while trying to work out how on earth it was created. It mesmerized and confused and inspired me. What I now know is Halima is a felt artist who makes incredible works of art from wool.

So just what is felting? Felting, or more specifically wet felting which is Halima’s technique, is the process by which warm soapy water is applied to layers of animal hairs placed at 90 degree angles to one another. Wetting and soaping causes the scales on the fibers to open, while agitating them causes the fibers to latch onto each other ….creating felt! Here are some of the beautiful things Halima has made with wet felting:

“When making felt I feel that I am having a conversation with it and coaxing it into the form I want it to have,” writes Halima. “You have to be continually mindful of how the wool is reacting during the process and alter your actions accordingly, that is listening to what the wool tells you.”

So when Halima offered a felting hat class, I eagerly signed up to learn more. During the class I molded the fibers into a complete hat … and it was amazing! Here’s a quick summary of what Halima taught us that day for those curious how this felting thing actually works!

1. Cut out a resist (from cardboard in this case) slightly larger than the desired hat size.

2. Lay two layers of wool fibers over the resist in alternating directions (one going up/down, one going side-to-side). Allow the wool to extend a bit beyond the resist.

3. Sprinkle/spray the wool with warm soapy water.

4. Lay a fabric netting over the wool and gently press it down to distribute the water and condense the wool.

5. Flip it all over (wool, resist, netting) and pull the wool around the edges.

6. Add more wool to the backside of the resist in the same alternating, 90-degree-angle fashion as step 2, so that each side now has two layers of wool. (You can add more wool, at 90 degree angles, for a thicker hat.)

7. Keep the wool thoroughly wet, but not too wet, and rub the wool on all sides in a circular motion to “felt” the wool. Keep the fabric netting on top of the wool to keep the wool in place and avoid having the wool stick to your hands. Rub the wool until it has felted to the point where it will not pull apart when pinched. This took a while!

8. Cut open the bottom of the felted wool and pull out the resist.

9. Place the hat on a towel and roll it up tightly around a stick, then roll it back and forth about a dozen times. Halima suggested using our feet to roll it! Unroll, re-roll in the opposite direction, and repeat. (This rolling presses out the creases and shrinks it in a controlled way.)

10. Place the hat on the hat block or a person’s head, then stretch over to smooth and mold into the shape desired.

11. Rinse the soap out of the hat, trim the edges, and allow to dry.

12. Wear your stylish hat! Here’s the hat I made in that class:

This was a just a quick description of what I learned from Halima — I recommend you take one of Halima’s classes to get your hands wet and soapy and felt something yourself! Check Halima’s web site at http://www.wanderingsheep.com/ for upcoming classes!

Halima also takes commissions and sells her creations in her Etsy shop and at at SCA events (I believe she’ll be at Border War). Here’s the beautiful bag I commissioned from her — I intended it to be a bag to hold a first-aid kit, but now I just use it for my all-purpose bag. I’ve been using it for two years now and look how lovely it remains! It holds its shape remarkably well.

Halima’s SCA A&S achievements include the Order of the Willow and Order of the Evergreen, as well as being selected as Cynnabar’s Baronial A&S Champion in 2010. Halima was the founder and event steward of Fiber Faire and Fiber Faire 2, which focused on the fiber arts! Halima also enters her creations at the Midrealm A&S competitions, one of which I recently had the opportunity to transport for her. Here is her 2014 A&S entry — three delightful bycocket hats!

THL Halima is a student of Master Henry Kersey of Devon and resides in the Barony of Cynnabar. You can reach her through her web site at http://www.wanderingsheep.com.

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