Posts Tagged pentathlon

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).



Estelle maintains a gallery of her scrolls at—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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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:


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.


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).


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



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!

The Midrealm A&S Pentathlon: My Journey, Misadventures, and Resolutions

27 May 2014

This tale starts with a bit of beeswax.

If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know I was in the SCA briefly in the ’90s. I made a dress, attended several events, flirted with dancing (and a couple guys), went to various meetings, and picked out a name (Katarina). I drifted away, as I had no real purpose or anchor to it. Fast forward to my friend Tracy’s 50th birthday — she’s still in the SCA and she invites me to an SCA event where her birthday will be celebrated. As I’m reading through the event web page (which we didn’t have back when I began in the SCA), I see there are Arts & Sciences challenges. ‘Ooh, this is a new aspect of the SCA I had not noticed before,’ I think to myself. The stars align and I decide to give the SCA another try: I paint a portrait with a fleur in it to enter into the challenge, I make a Tudor gown to wear, and off I go. I have a blast and win the challenge. Among the prizes I received was a biscuit of beeswax. I had no idea why it was a prize at the time, but it had a fleur de lys on it and it smelled good. Duchess AnneMarie re-introduced me to the SCA, and the A&S aspect pulled me in. I was hooked this time.

From that point on, I began making all the things! I think that first year I might have driven some of my fellow baronial members crazy with my incessant blog and Facebook posting of projects and photos. I was just SO happy to have an outlet for creativity. I learned about A&S displays and entered my first blackwork project in it several months after that first event. (I discovered the many uses of beeswax during my first blackwork project!) A couple of months later there was an A&S heraldry competition at a local event that I entered and won. I was having SO much fun! Then I learned that our Barony had an A&S champion. I even though was only six months in at this point, I entered the competition for that anyway. I had my blackwork, woodwork, my first tellerbarret hat, and silk heraldic cloak on display. I wasn’t selected as baronial champion, but something significant happened anyway (because that’s how this works, you know). Master RanthlfR said to me something like, “Great work! I can’t wait to see what you do for the Pentathlon.”

Pentathlon? What the heck is that?

I researched this “Pentathlon” thing and discovered that each year the Midrealm hosts A&S competitions. A Pentathlon is waaaaay out of my reach, I think, but maybe I could enter a thing in the competition. A thing turns into two things when I finish my blackwork caul and my red German goldwork gown (that beeswax got more use!). I get a practice run at entering an A&S competition with the Day at St. Catherine’s Cloister: Demystifying A&S Competitions event, the brainchild of the late Dame Margarete of Stirlingshire (to whom I am so grateful). I meet many people and learn so much. I enter the regional A&S faire, and the person who checks me in enthusiastically is THL Gunnar (our new Kingdom A&S champion) — he mentions that pentathlon word again as he had entered it the previous year. I win a first and second place at Regional and get to go on to Kingdom. My judges comments guide me, I make tweaks to my projects and documentation, and I receive two first places at Kingdom.

The entire A&S competition experience that first year was positive and uplifting. The competitions motivated me to tackle (and finish) difficult projects. The judging gave me genuine feedback from like-minded people who didn’t mind sitting and chatting with me about my passions. The awards encouraged me to continue. Through my judging I met Mistress Crespine and Master Cellach, neither of whom were recognized as Laurels at the time and who both inspire and encourage me to this day. And through the face-to-face time and the written comments — and the other entrants’ work on display — I learn more about the importance of research and communication of process and ideas.

And that bit of beeswax? Somehow I’d brought it with me to each A&S event, though why I cannot say now.

I entered the A&S competition the following year (my goldhaube), but my experience was a bit rockier, the going a little harder. I had put my goldhaube together much later than expected because of a death in the family, but I was determined to do it. I was fortunate that my goldhaube earned a first place. I began judging other entrants at Kingdom A&S this year also, and discovered that not everyone had the same positive attitude about the creation of A&S. My beliefs and conceptions were challenged, and I faltered a bit that day. I am indebted to Gregor and Mistress Crespine for their counsel, which helped me overcome this hurdle.

Later that day in court, I listened intently as the pentathlon entrants’ scores were read and I watched in wonder as THL Heodez De Talento Minotto won the pentathlon and became the new Kingdom A&S Champion. Their Majesties recognized her and she inspired us — and it wasn’t just me who felt that inspiration. While waiting in the line to get our certificates and judging sheets, I heard many people declare their intention to enter a pentathlon one day. “One day I’d like to enter a pentathlon,” I heard myself say. And it was true. What a challenge it would be to enter at least five items in four different divisions. And, to share my inner thoughts a bit here, I thought it would be cool to win. Many of us won first place awards that day, but only one person really stood out (at least for me) as the premier entrant — she won the Pentathlon, was recognized and congratulated by the Crown and assembled populace, and was made Kingdom Champion and recognized at all the events she attended as Champion. I am not ashamed to admit that I love being recognized by my peers. I think most of us do!

And this year? It was everything that came before that pushed me to enter this year. The challenges I’d encountered motivated me to do some deep research, get the answers written down, and share it with everyone through a research paper. And once I did that and had to submit it for the A&S competition so early, I didn’t stop — I just kept writing, researching, and creating until I found I had those five projects. I don’t mean to oversimplify it — I have been gently accused of “making it seem too easy.” It was definitely hard work with lots of frustration, complications, very late nights, and a fair amount of bloodshed (darn carving knives). My beeswax was used and abused! But I also stretched into new areas, learned new skills, and expanded my mind. It was a WONDERFULLY HARD challenge! But … I only entered the pentathlon to accomplish the challenge, not with the intention of winning. Had I been trying to win, I would have entered seven, not five, projects. I also would not have entered any write-in entries (like my research paper or play), as those are judged just once with no option of tweaking in between regional and Kingdom (and those judges comments go a long way toward improving a project). But so what? I’D ENTERED A PENTATHLON. It felt great and I was on top of the world. This was my first try and perhaps next year I’d enter with the goal of winning.

I had a great day at the regional competition, despite my lack of sleep — I was up all night sewing, my trusty beeswax in hand. I had been hoping to get at least second places on my projects so I could go to Kingdom. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I’d gotten four first places and one second place. And those first places had scores higher than any of my previous projects — there were even a few perfect scores, a possibility which had not even occurred to me. That was a great day! Much gratitude to my Regional-level judges: Mistress Melisant Saint-Clair, Lady Godelina Blaubloeme, Lady Catherine of Deva,  Master Odo de Eu, Artemesia Voltera, Master Nigellus le Haie, THL Sarai Tindall, Mistress Gianetta Andreini da Vincenza, Mistress Sarafina Sinclair, Mistress Tyzes “Zsof” Sofia, Baroness Frances Elizabeth Devereux, THL Eva von Oldebrook, Master Maximilian der Zauberer, and THL Halla of Mugmort.

So my projects went on as a Pentathlon entry to Kingdom A&S. I did some updates to my documentation and arrived feeling really relaxed — this was helped by the fact that I felt I had no hopes of winning, so there was no anxiety. With three other Pentathlon entries by highly skilled entrants, two of whom had previously entered the Pentathlon, my chances were very slim and I simply let go of all those hopes and fears that accompany such a competition. I did encounter one little bump when I came face-to-face with my challenge from the previous year, but I chose to address it directly and positively — all was resolved well. That challenge had motivated me to learn more and produce an entire research paper — how can I not see that as a good thing now?

Many, many thanks to my Kingdom judges: Master Cellach Mac Cormach, Lady Colette the Seamstress, Baroness Frances Elizabeth Devereux, Master Avery Austringer, Baroness Katayoun Al-Aurvataspa, THL Aasa Sorensdottir, THL Odile di Brienne, Mistress Anthoinette de Martel, and Mistress Cerridwen verch Ioreword.

(Beware: Rant/Constructive Criticism Ahead. If you dislike such things, skip to the next paragraph!) Despite all this, court that evening was a bit of an ordeal. It was long and hot, for starters. The two A&S champions were chosen early on in court, though without any fanfare and no heraldic announcement — I did not even know they were A&S champions until much later because I could not hear a single word of what was said despite sitting in the fifth row. I was happy to see THL Gunnarr Alfljot (the A&S Champion) and Genevieve of Sternfeld (the Youth A&S Champion) recognized! But even though the main focus of the day was Kingdom A&S, the awards were not announced until 75 minutes after the start of court. And I felt more time and attention was given to the various tournament winners of the day (small tournaments, not Crown Tournament) than to those who I felt were the real stars of the day — the entrants of the A&S competition who had worked so hard in the months and perhaps even years to get here. Due to the lack of time, only names and awards were announced and it was asked that applause be held until the end and the entrants did not go up to receive their certificates (they were given out at the back of the hall after court). I felt upset on the behalf of my fellow artisans — there was a distinct lack of focus and attention on the bestowing of the awards. I want to point out that I do not feel this was any fault of the competition organizers, whom impressed me greatly with their efforts and organization. I know this varies year to year, but should I ever have the power to change this, I would make the A&S competition results the centerpiece of court, with each entrant called up, given their certificate, and asked to remain standing in the front (if they are able) for their friends and family to applaud them and see their faces. Entering an A&S competition is the culmination of a great deal of research and hard work, and NEEDS to be celebrated for the future well-being of our Kingdom and its populace. Competitions motivate, inspire, and recognize individuals to do their best at one of the three pillars of our Society, the Arts & Sciences. The Pentathlon scores were the final piece of court business and — given everything — it just felt anti-climatic … and quite unlike last year. (Rant off.)

So when the Pentathlon awards were announced, I was shocked and humbled to discover I had won. It is important to note that the scores for the pentathlon entries were all very close — only six points differentiated them. This means we ALL did a phenomenal job and I just got lucky to be the one with the highest score. It is my greatest hope that all the pentathlon entrants feel a great sense of satisfaction of their accomplishment. Many congratulations to THL Gunnarr Alfljot, THL Heodez De Talento Minotto, and Lady Lynette de Warenne for their amazing achievement! And hoobah to all the Kingdom A&S competition entrants and to the competition organizers — especially Master Philippe and Mistress Crespine — to whom I am so grateful!

I’ve been asked if I will enter the Pentathlon again, and while I cannot see into the future, I suspect I will not. Why? Because as the Pentathlon Champion, I feel my role is to motivate and inspire others to pursue their ideas and enter the A&S competition. I’d like to see others enter and win, and as the Pentathlon is comes down to a competition between the entrants, I would not want to inadvertently stand in anyone’s way of winning. Honor before victory is more than the name of this blog.

To that end, I intend to shine the spotlight on other artisans in our Kingdom. There are so many amazingly talented people and I want to get to know them better and share their talents with the Middle Kingdom and Knowne World! Over the next year, I’ll be focusing more on these inspirational people, learning about their arts and sciences, and introducing them to you through my blogs (either here or over at, depending upon their field). Please bookmark my blogs and watch for links!

As for this year’s A&S projects, I have already posted the documentation for my pleatwork smock and my wooden doll over at, and my pleatwork research paper and 16th c. play will follow soon. I will also continuing the posting of my tutorials on the various projects. Thank you to everyone for your support, kind words, and encouragement!

My little beeswax talisman is not forgotten. It’s seen me through every fiber-related project I’ve done in this time. Somehow, I don’t know how, I’ve managed to avoid losing it. It’s a little worse for wear, but still works great! I think everyone who wants one should have one, and I’ll be making beeswax ornaments and talismans for fellow artisans I see doing wonderful things, whether it be at a display, competition, class, or simply somewhere out there. So don’t be surprised to see a little beeswax feather or winged heart find its way to you!