Posts Tagged artisan love

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.]


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).


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!


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!”


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,, 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.


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!


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.]


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.


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


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


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.


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.]


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 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.


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!



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.


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


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


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:


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:


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


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.


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:


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.


9. Remove the 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.


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.


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.


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, 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, and a very thorough bibliography (also found here

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

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!