[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.]
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).
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!
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!”
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.
To fix this, flip the button back over and make a stitch through the area sticking out to pull it in toward the center.
Presto! The odd corner disappears!
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!
Buttons, glorious buttons!