Messages from the Other Side

In the time since I last posted, I have been mistaken for a ghost twice, had two cars die on me (one permanently), put in a lot of hilarious hours at the bakery, and some less hilarious ones at various libraries, visited my sister at her college (I’m still picking stick-me-tights out of my shawl, thanks, kid), read a lot of books, and watched the leaves fall.

The first time I was taken for a ghost was a good fortnight before Halloween, and it came about in this way. There’s a patch of woods behind my apartment building which I am fairly familiar with. Coming home from the grocery store at dusk one Tuesday evening, I heard loud screams emanating from it. I took my phone and crunched loudly into the woods, ready to call 911.

It was kids. Playing a game.

I froze. Do I “sneak” away (as if you can in a woods in autumn) or go say “hey, I didn’t know if you were okay, maybe don’t freak the neighbourhood out like that again”? But before I could decide, one of them shrieked in a new and different tone, “There’s a ghost! I saw a ghost!” and they all ran.

They got up to the road and stopped and the one who’d seen me explained, “It had a white shirt and long blonde hair.” The others tried to convince it that a ghost was unlikely. But they decided to investigate, and so. . . I (perhaps unwisely, in retrospect) decided to come meet them.

This led to one of the older ones shrieking, “I see it too!” but (unlike Edmund in Prince Caspian) leading the charge away from me. This time they didn’t stop until they got to their house (assuming it’s their house) on the other side of the street and shut themselves in the garage, pressed up against the window of the door.

Clearly they didn’t stop to think that a) a real ghost wouldn’t be making nearly as much noise in the leaves as I was, and b) a garage door is no obstacle to an immaterial creature, but panic doesn’t let you think like that.

The next day at the bakery I told that story, and Isaiah said, “You know, with that one story, you’ve achieved something most people spend years and years and years trying to do.” I thought, What, became a ghost? But before I could ask he said, “A reputation.”

Then a couple of weeks ago I took my dead potted plants outside at evening to dump them out, because my drawn-out fall cleaning had reached the Spare Oom, and someone who lives in my building and was out smoking just then (he must have come outside just a minute after I did) thought I was a ghost away in the trees, and told me about it when I came back in.

That was a Saturday night. The Monday following my own van died, and I worked all day. Tuesday it was confirmed permanently dead, and I worked all day. Wednesday we cleaned it out and tried to sell it to the business that had towed it, but couldn’t find the title to it, which made that hard, and I worked. Thursday I was sick, and didn’t work (this was the cat’s favourite day of that week). Friday I turned the borrowed van on to go to work, and it was dead. I got rides to and from the bakery with friends, and arranged for another ride in to the library the next morning. Saturday I was awoken by knocking on my door — it was five minutes before I should have been at work and I’d slept through my alarm. I set a new record for amount of time taken to get out the door in the morning, and was able to open the library on time, at least. While I was at work Dad put a new battery in the borrowed van and confirmed that it at least started up again.

Sunday — ah, blessed day of rest and cheer — I came home from church at lunchtime thinking the chaotic week was behind me and now I could actually clean the house. I parked the car and turned it off and a woman approached me to ask if I could help her and her friend jump their car.

“I’m pretty sure I have jumper cables in my car but I don’t know how to use them; let me call my dad,” I said. “He’s only five minutes away.”

I then listened to Dad’s phone ring until it went to voicemail. I called my mom instead. I waited while she found Dad, whom she managed to lose in the two minutes between me leaving and me calling.

Dad located, I said, “I’m not lost, I’m not stranded, I haven’t found the van title, the van got me back just fine, but there’s someone in my parking lot who needs her car jumped.” He said he would be on his way.

When he arrived, we discovered that I did not, in fact, have jumper cables in the van, neither the ones moved from the van I killed last week, nor the ones supposedly belonging to the borrowed van. He searched the vehicle he came in and discovered that, unaccountably, it doesn’t have cables either.

He called two other church members’ numbers before someone who wasn’t even on the phone said, “Yes, I know certainly that I have jumper cables in my car, and I can come over.”

At this point I gave up on things and went inside. The only chaos so far this week has come from a substantial number of people at the library being out sick.

I am still working on the Historical Entwife project — right now flatlining all the separate gardecorps pieces, though I have the two hood pieces finished enough that last night I started sewing them together. It’s the first time I’ve lined anything and that part is getting a bit tedious, but I’m also starting to wonder if I have enough time to finish it and an embroidered pouch by the end of January. I’m still working on the documentation of the other pieces with an eye to posting all about them with lots of pictures, but Recent Events have conspired to leave me without the brains and the time to do that both at once. Frazzled is practically my middle name these days.

But it’s not everyone who can manage to be both a ghost and a cyborg — at the bakery I’m said to have a bionic foot — and even without that dubious advantage, if anyone ever tells you the single life is necessarily boring, or means you have to do everything all by yourself, feel free to produce me as Exhibit A.

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An Eleventh-Century Englishwoman’s Cyrtel, part V (and last)


   I didn’t have time to do any of the seam treatments I wanted to experiment with, beyond pressing the seams of the sleeve and sleeve lining pieces so that they would lie nicely together. This I did — not having an iron — with a glass paperweight. At an event I was at some time ago, I overheard a conversation about the different theories surrounding finds in some graves of smallish crystal balls — scholars often jump to the conclusion that because they have no clear purpose they must be ritual objects of some sort, but one of the people in the conversation said what if they were small portable seam-pressers? A glass paperweight is not quite the same thing, but I figured it might be close enough to see if the whole idea is balderdash or not. And it actually worked quite nicely on the small sections I was able to do, so I don’t think it’s impossible. Own-Crocker writes about the possibility of those balls being used as linen smoothers as well (pp. 94, 277, 303). I’ve since tried a paperweight on linen rather than wool, and it does work well (not that I have any other experience to compare it to).

   I would like to be able to calculate the amount of time I spent on this cyrtel, but I can’t. Chronology is deceptive, because I started it in July 2018. However, I only worked on it for two weeks, getting as far as inserting the side gores while hemming as I went along, before life got in the way, and a stretch of bad mental health followed. I worked on it off and on for the next year, more off than on, and only started it seriously again in December 2019. Thereafter I averaged an hour a day on it, but quite a few of those hours were spent ripping seams and working through obstacles rather than doing any actual stitching. But no matter how early one starts a project, the inescapable SCAdian curse follows: a few weeks prior to the event you must and will find yourself wishing you weren’t driving yourself to site, that you might add on potential sewing time in the car. 

   Also, the sleeves were going swimmingly as I attached them to the body, and I was actually able to line up their upper seams with the shoulder seam — and then, with the first more than halfway sewn on, Wednesday before the event, disaster struck in the form of me lining up the sides in preparation for side seams and finding them not to be the same length. And of course the longer was in front. At that late hour, did I dare unattach the sleeve, reposition it hoping to avoid holes, and redo it? Or, as I have done twice before, did I fold over the extra in the least conspicuous place possible, knowing that neither Philosophia nor the Weingarten Virgin seem to have that kind of extra detail on their gowns (the latter’s being especially untailored), and hope for the best? Eventually I settled for the latter course, resolving in future to double-check the sides and make their matching a priority over lining up with the largely unseen shoulder seams. Which you can do by sewing up the side seams last.

What I learned from this project

   Bone needles are fun to work with and you can get tiny stitches with them. I don’t want to go back to metal needles now. Part of it is a sensory thing — bone needles warm up in your hand as you use them, and get smoother over time, and mine is starting to get ever so slightly flattened where I hold it — how could you not like something that you can shape and mold and which also isn’t cold like metal and doesn’t set your teeth on edge when you inevitably drop it? Durability is an issue, of course — I only have the one bone needle and I’ve been so very careful not to sit down on it. Still, if I did, yes, it would break. But it wouldn’t physically hurt me the way a metal needle does.

   I still hate sleeves. Not wearing them but sewing them — as much as possible a matching pair — having to do a tricky thing and, when it’s done, not being able to rest on that but having to go and do it over again (it’s a bit like life, put like that). Having to join them up to the body piece and somehow not leave or make any holes. The entire process of inserting sleeve gussets, which are useful and good and marvels of engineering when you consider all the different things one square or triangle of bias-cut fabric has to do, but endlessly painful to put in. I’d thought that maybe having a different kind of gusset this time would make the process easier, but unfortunately not. 

    Listen to your fabric. This can be anything from the level of individual stitches — where does it want the thread to pass? — to what project it wants to be. I had three pieces of fabric which would have done okay for the sleeve lining, but despite inconveniences such as not having enough to fully line them, it was the green twill that refused to give up on being part of this garb. So it is now, and I hope it’s happy. I quite like the contrast. 

    This project confirmed for me that I really do prefer the two-gore to the four-gore look for this period. I think you can argue that the Virgin in the Weingarten Crucifixion could have four gores, given the way her skirt drapes between her knees, but generally speaking I think two gores look more like the art.

   Because of the bug problem, and the project not fitting in my nice safe stash bin, I took to keeping it in the freezer between times of working on it. It didn’t have much trouble thawing out, though I can’t vouch for any damage the constant freeze-thaw cycle might do to fabric kept this way permanently. Being wool I would think it would be pretty resilient; other fibres perhaps not so much. Still, I didn’t find any new holes in the fabric after that. 


   It may be worth noting, now that the trials of making this garment are over, that this is only my fourth such project (counting the first, which, alas, subscribed to almost every stereotype I decried in the earlier parts of this paper) and my first attempting such a persnickety degree of accuracy. No doubt a more experienced seamstress in any period would have accomplished a garment of this pattern much faster than I did, and with less stumbling about and getting confused about the littlest things. But while this cyrtel is far from perfect — something it shares with every work of human hands, including its cousins the now sadly lost garments contemporary with the artistic sources which are all that remain to us today — it is certainly functional: it fits me, for whom it was made, and is not so fragile that I’m afraid to do normal things in it, and even looks something like the pictures. Perhaps it’s a lot of work to go to only to prove that people were still wearing t-tunics, yet I hope we don’t look down our noses at the style simply because the separate pieces are all straight lines, but can appreciate how with a minimum of patterning fuss such elegant folds and drapery are achievable. 

   This is a reconstruction of eleventh-century female dress only in so far as the art I have had to rely on is an accurate representation of the current fashions, a question whose answer seems lost in the mists of time. But as a learning exercise and piece of experimental archaeology, I consider it a success. Since we have no extant garments to reconstruct all I can hope to “reconstruct” is the general look and drape of the garments as pictured. So I could have done an equally good job, judged as a representation, with synthetic fabric and sewn on a machine. True. But the experience is part of learning how things work — as Cathy Hay says, the process of hand-sewing is more than merely the price you pay for getting to the finished wearable object. While it takes much longer and is harder on my wrists than machine-sewing would be, and while it can be at least equally aggravating when you have to stop and rip out a seam, I find sewing is also much more fun when your fabric and your thread and even your needle are pleasant in the hand, and your connection to the people who first made these things is that much clearer.


Owen-Crocker, Gale. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. The Boydell Press, 2010. Various pages. 

Brewbane, Æthelflied. Sewing With Period Tools. 2016. Accessed 12/31/19. Link:


Cain, Joy Selby. An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel. 2019. Accessed 12/31/19. Link:

Thomas, Kate. Wealthy Wynflaed’s Wonderful Will. 2016. Accessed July 2018. Link:

   I used the following pages from the Bodleian and Morgan libraries, respectively, to date the manuscripts I reference:

“Benedictional of St Æthelwold”. The British Library. July 2018. Link:

“The Junius Manuscript”. The British Library. July 2018. Link:

“The New Minster Liber Vitae”. The British Library. July 2018. Link:

“Gospels of Judith of Flanders (MS M. 708)”. The Morgan Library and Museum. July 2018.


Posted in History, Non-fiction, Research, SCA, Writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

In Which I eat soup and ramble

“In Which Sophia goes to the bank!” a friend proclaimed at work the other day.

“You never know, something might happen on the way there,” I said. It didn’t, that time, but I do seem to be establishing a reputation for turning the smallest efforts into an adventure of some kind. Anyone who thinks the single life is boring and lonely needs to go on a road trip with me. Or just to one day of work.

Take, for example, David’s graduation party. Our dearly beloved comic relief of the Motley Crew went off to seminary a couple of weeks ago. I got off work that Friday evening and saw an e-mail saying his party was going on right then, and since I supposedly live less than an hour from his house now, I thought I’d go. I only got lost three times and ended up staying the night because by the time the bonfire had died down everyone I would have called to ask for help when — not if — I got lost going home in the dark should have been in bed. (Should have. I discovered later that Olivia had been up even later than me that Saturday morning.)

The first time I got lost was when the highway’s detour we’d forgotten about turned out to have a detour of its own. The second time I’ve forgotten the details of. The third time I ran into construction which didn’t exist on the map my dad was looking at and had to try to find my way around. Coming home we just tried a completely different route.

It’s been a sort of eventful end to summer, not that I intended to let the blog languish. The attempted revisions to my Black Wasp documentation turned into “basically read Owen-Crocker” on every page, which isn’t bad but means most of the documentation isn’t terribly exciting for those who can’t, and redundant for those who already have and don’t need your own more clumsy explanations. My carpal tunnel got really bad for no obvious reason, several weeks in a row, which meant for a while I was only doing things at work and the rest of the time sitting in my house trying to ignore the pleading of my striped linen gown, almost entirely cut out and just needing to be sewn up before my self-imposed deadline. . .

And there was a canoe trip on which (miraculously) no one died, and a conference at church I took the day off for and so got to hear halves of interesting sessions behind the door (my favourite place, as those who know me in real life can attest), and the second anniversary of the suicide, and a terrible case of autumn wanderlust that saw me go for a four-mile walk in completely unfamiliar country, the last hour of it in the dark, and I didn’t get lost, although a sheriff did stop to ask if I needed help.

The soup today started with a recipe for beet borscht, although I put the cabbage in too early and substituted turkey stock for beef broth, and things. In spite of that it’s a success, and since it’s been raining all day, kind of perfect. In the Spare Oom, because that’s the only safe place for it to sit out, I’ve got a bowl of water and flour with apples in it, because I finally got some that hadn’t been sprayed or washed, so I can try making bread with wild yeast, and it’s getting bubbly. Other than that, if I’ve done any food experiments lately, I’ve also forgotten them.

Right now I’m reading The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, which is fascinating and not a part of the world I know much about other than from reading Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. I take a few points off for the authour spending too much time talking about how the western world spent the thirteenth century stagnating, apart from killing each other over silly theological disputes. Europe — and farther west — saw a great many advances in various fields in the thirteenth century. And while they shouldn’t have been killing each other, it’s bad scholarship to dismiss Aquinas’ world as one of silly disputes. You can praise one half of the world without putting down the other. Or you should be able to.

Possibly the best non-fiction I’ll read all year is Heather Lanier’s Raising A Rare Girl, which I think I’ve added to the list of books I go around telling everybody they should read, so go do that. Otherwise I’m working my way through Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, and Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.

I haven’t really been writing. Terrible, I know. I do actually think about it in the middle of the night. The Two-legged League deserves to be properly finished and not left hanging about in limbo like so many of my other stories, and I want to do it justice, but also, I keep mopping myself into corners with that one and having to sit and watch the floor dry until I can move on and mop myself into another corner in the other direction, in a manner of speaking. That gets tiresome after a while. Also, voice-to-text in Google Drive is a bit of a hassle at the moment and typing was Not Allowed according to my carpal tunnel for a while there. (Just when I thought I’d learned the lesson about not being in control of my life and let myself start to think it wasn’t too bad. . . ha.)

(As if brainless parts of my body are aware of irony — which given my left foot I think they are — my left arm started twinging and I had a ten-minute break there. Life goes on.)

In more pleasant news, the Historical Entwife project has been coming along swimmingly on those days I’m able to work on it. Doing most seams in running stitch is apparently period practice for the 13th century (we have extant garments so we can tell) (no I am never going to shut up about having actual extant garments), and I’m still amazed at how much faster things go when it’s not all in backstitch. I’m also learning to trust the strength of my handspun thread a little more. So far I’ve sewn the six gores into two sets of three, sewn the eight sleeve pieces into sleeves (need I specify the number? there’s two of them), temporarily sewn the two body pieces together but I don’t like the slope of the shoulders so I’m going to re-do them, and last night I joined the first sleeve to its gore panel.

I still hate sleeve gussets.

Posted in Books, Fiction, History, Non-fiction, Ordinary life, Reading, SCA | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

An Eleventh-Century Englishwoman’s Cyrtel, part IV

Continuing from last time with the tale of how I actually made the thing. . .


   When I had put in the two side gores and seen how uneven my hem was, I nearly despaired, but finally gave in and decided to make it with four gores, adding a centre front and back. I hadn’t yet cut a slit in the front, so I brought the edges of the new front gore together and put them along a crease in the middle so I could see what it would look like and about how far I would need to cut. Doing the same with my smock, which is my only other garment with centre gores, and a very nice hem, showed dismaying results — the gore still appeared much narrower, but its hem did not spill over the bounds of the hem under it, like the blue one does. I looked forward to a continually uneven hem, just a slightly more undulating unevenness which might at least not look so bad. Or, you know, having to re-hem the entire thing (hemming as you go is great until it isn’t). . . . But I had cut out the gores now, so I put them in anyway.


How it hangs now

Sleeves of Doom

   I didn’t cut out sleeves right away, because I wanted sleeves like Philosophia’s in the Psychomachia of Prudentius, and it took me a while to figure out how to get a similar look. Then just for the fun of it I draped those pieces to see if I could get triangular sleeves from them, and I could! So at once fell swoop I doubled the amount of sleeve-hemming I had to do and changed the overall look I was going for. I had resisted doing “Sleeves of Doom” because they’re so much associated with this period and I wanted to show that other things were going on too, but then I borrowed my sister’s bliaut for Halloween, and I have to say I understand the fascination. Owing to the constraints of the pieces I had already cut out, my sleeves, while the same general shape, are not as long in proportion to their width as this Virgin’s, but are fairly close to this and closer still to others (like the Virgin of the Liber Vitae cited above).

   I also had not intended to line the sleeves, but while the project was in progress a bug got into my basket and snipped several threads right along where I had to hem. Making bias tape to cover it was an option, except I have no evidence whatsoever for it as a period practice for this time. So then I broke down and planned a complete lining which comes up over the edge a bit, in a contrasting colour, and while that is yet another point of deviance from the reference picture I ended up most closely following, the Weingarten Crucifixion’s Virgin, lining is a well-substantiated practice in general. I thought I had just enough green and white twill left over from my previous cyrtel to do it. (Linen would have been ideal for lining, since it’s lighter than wool, but I didn’t have the budget. Wool I have found cheaply at thrift stores, but never yet real linen.)

   And then I didn’t have enough. My reference image has what could be a sleeve turned back, or a very deep hem. I could possibly get away with doing a lining that only goes a few inches deep, which might look like a deep cuff, because it looks like the only evidence we have to go on for etc. Also it’s being resourceful and not giving up on fabric I already had cut out just because it has a few moth-holes. If I had cut out big squares for rectangular sleeves and changed my mind, someone a thousand years ago might have done the same, right? And if I sew a sleeve with a seam running along the top and not the bottom because the fabric works that way, that makes more sense than in saying, “Well, later periods don’t do this, so it’s unlikely the construction morphed from up here to down there” and going with that equally conjectural bit of reasoning, right? Because I’m sitting down to make a garment by hand, and asking myself what the fabric is telling me. And in an era without pattern books, this probably happened. That is, assuming human nature stays mostly the same over time, as a whole, which I do assume.

   So I’m actually kind of confident that the principle carries over to partially-lining sleeves in a different colour, and intentionally carrying the lining over to the outside, to cover a problem. As Bernadette Banner says somewhere, I’m attempting historical attitude if not perfect accuracy. 

   I lined the sleeves by turning the finished sleeve right side out, adding the lining strip with its right side up against the other’s right side (green ending about an inch from blue’s edge), sewing them together with backstitch until the green’s ends met, then flipping the whole inside out, tacking them together with running stitch at the top of the green piece, then trimming and fiddling with the ends until I could sew them together without catching the blue layer. The decision to do this last bit in whipstitch or felling stitch on one sleeve, and backstitch on the other, was another experimental thing — this time not only for how durable they might be, but how comparatively invisible. After I wore it once, the whipstitched one had begun to pull, resulting in gaps between the threads of the side that went under where my thread passed through, and the lining didn’t want to lie quite flat at that seam. While the other method took more work I think it was worth it in the long run.

   While I was at work on the second sleeve, with ten days to go till the competition, having roundly cursed both myself and the materials and pattern for all the setbacks along the way, the magic having gone out of the thing, I had friends over and showed one of them the finished sleeve. The look of awe on her face reminded me that while I see all the mistakes and the difficulties and imperfections, she sees a medieval garment coming to life, and that’s truly why this is worth it. 


A closeup of the inside of the sleeve where the lining ends, raw edges on display. The undyed thread I used almost blends in with the cream-coloured thread of the fabric, but if you look for a slightly darker line half a pattern repeat in, you can just see it.



To be continued in our next — this time including speculations about silk and embroidery, and glass paperweights instead of steam irons!

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An Eleventh-Century Englishwoman’s Cyrtel, part III

Making documentation

Historical attitude versus accuracy – materials – methods

   Originally my main reference picture was the Virgin in the Annunciation from the Benedictional, which I raved over earlier: her cyrtel looked so comfy, and was also without the pointed sleeves so often associated with this period, and I did want to buck that expectation a little. Later, when I succumbed to my new understanding of the desire for pointed sleeves, and thought they were doable (which goes to show that if you don’t know something’s impossible, you may end up doing it), I decided to go with the same lady, this time from the Weingarten Crucifixion. Since the basic structure of the garment changes very little over this period as far as we know, I felt comfortable with the change; it wasn’t too much a case of doing research to support what I’d already concluded. 

Materials and methods


   My mother called me from the thrift store one day: “They have several yards of fabric that I think is a hundred percent wool for ten dollars, do you want it?” Did I! The burn test confirmed her guess. It’s hard to tell exactly what the pattern of the weave is, but it seems to be a twill of some kind. I washed a test scrap in warm water and dish soap and it did not bleed one bit, which given the colour pretty decisively indicates artificial dyes. It did fluff up a little without the encouragement of any agitation. Such a dark blue would have been incredibly expensive in period, and would have bled at least a little when washed, but present-day me is not in a position to be picky about colour when wool shows up at ten dollars for a few yards. 


   The method of production is unquestionably period. Would linen be more likely than wool? According to other historical costumers, yes; however the price was prohibitive with my budget. I know linen, especially waxed linen, is more durable over time generally. I did a little experiment on the skirt, where all parts have about the same amount of strain, with combinations of thread and stitches: single or doubled thread, running or backstitch, and over time I’ll watch for what parts break first. 

Cutting plan: 

   Owen-Crocker provides one from Robin Netherton on p. 343 (Appendix B) of DiASE calculated for period loom widths and with very little waste. However, my fabric being a very modern 60 inches across, I went with an adapted-for-my-body t-tunic pattern. (Also at that point I wanted plain rectangular sleeves, unlike the ones in Netherton’s plan.) I cut two body pieces about 50 inches long and 18 wide, to be sewn together at the shoulders, and cut out a round neckline, as the veil always covers it in any case and I didn’t figure there was much point in embellishing something that stays unseen. I cut a rectangle and then, drawing lines from two corners of one short side to a point at the middle of the other short end, a triangle from the middle of it, using the two right-angled triangles it left for the other side gore. The only waste from this was the pieces from the neckline and the curved bits from rounding off the gores.



    I find it easiest to make garb with just two side gores and no centre front or back ones (and again the Annunciation scene is compatible with that construction), and my two other cyrtels have only side gores, but this time when I finished putting them in the hemline was. . . wearable but not pretty. So although a cyrtel with only side gores gives much the same impression as the pictures, I decided to put in extras in the hope that they’d make the hem look better. And with the expense already put into the fabric in the colour and fine gauge and weave, it’s not like I had to skimp on the skirt. And that would solve having to re-hem the entire thing. 

   Or so I thought. 

   I handsewed the entire garment in undyed wool thread I spun myself using a distaff and spindle. I hemmed it in running stitch for ease (pushing a needle backwards through three layers of a very tiny rolled hem wasn’t something I wanted to do more than I had to), and I suppose in the inevitable event that I or someone else steps on the hem and snaps the thread, it will be easy to mend; on the other hand, under the same conditions backstitch wouldn’t come undone as quickly as running stitch. The weight-bearing seams are in backstitch, sometimes a single thread and sometimes doubled, the latter especially at the tops of gores for extra reinforcement. The extra gores are mostly in running stitch. More on the reasoning behind this anon.

   Why was I pushing my needle backwards? Æthelflied Brewbane compared the experiences and results of sewing period-weave fabric with both metal and bone needles, her main finding being that you can get consistent three-millimetre stitches with a bone needle, but also observing “In normal hand sewing with a modern metal needle the needle passes through the fabric, cutting threads, but leaving the weave generally smooth and undisturbed looking. Sewing with the thicker bone needle shoved the threads out of the way and left a large hole in the weave, while leaving the individual threads intact” (the holes later “healed”). It makes sense that leaving threads intact would make for a more durable seam in the long run, so I tried it. At the time I started this project I didn’t have a bone needle, but I did have a blunt-tipped darning needle with an eye big enough to take my thread, and I could use the proper end to pierce the fabric with and all was well. Then I lost it and had to buy more, which when they came turned out to have sharp tips, so backwards it was — sewing with the eye end first. This worked fine on seams where I only had two pieces of fabric, but the hems were no fun. Then I got a bone needle, but the hems were too narrow for it to work on them. In other places I got, as did Æthelflied, even stitches of two to three millimetres each. The bone needle produced very satisfactory results. 

To be continued in our next. I keep having difficulty transferring images from the document to a blog post, but pictures are going to be very valuable for the next sections, so. . . but we’re approaching the fun parts.

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Due to Technical Difficulties

the third post in the Black Wasp garb series did not go up today, for which I apologize. You see, I only just properly got home.

My sister came over when she got off work, and I hurried home from my work, so we could watch a friend’s senior recital online. After it was over and we’d left the socializing bit, she began to leave to go to our parents’ house and make supper and things (they were gone to SD for their anniversary). She asked me to walk out with her, which I did, still planning at that point to return immediately and cook my mushrooms for supper and do up a blog post and all the other things on my list. In retrospect it was providential that I decided to feed the cat five minutes early while she was there, instead of waiting till I got back in.

Oh, and a while ago I was given a tall lamp for the Spare Oom (slash craft room slash her bedroom when she spends nights, which has no overhead lighting), and it’s been languishing in my car for ages, but today I finally remembered, when I was in the parking lot with her, to carry it in. It helped that I had nothing else in my hands just then.

So I carried the lamp in and up the stairs and set it down at my door to open it. I turned the handle, which went just fine, but the after bit was fuzzy on the details.

Reader, the door was locked.

And my key was inside.

I have “my” key, and the spare key used to be elsewhere but with my sister popping in and out so often just now she kind of. . . keeps it. She’s also very responsible (unlike me), and (unlike me) she locks the door every time she leaves. Not that I don’t usually lock the door, but this particular time I’d said to myself “I’m just running down the stairs and back up in broad daylight, why would I need to lock the door?” So, naturally, I didn’t grab my key either.

But my dear responsible sister must have locked the door, out of habit, as she left, taking my spare key with her, and locking my key, and my phone, and my car key, and all my tissues, inside. I stood beside my tall lamp in the hallway and laughed maniacally until I remembered the neighbours existed and might have opinions.

Now I had to decide what to do. Without much hope, I tried to pick the lock with the various parts of my Swiss Army knife, not that that did any good. (I’ve said to myself in the past, Self, you should learn lockpicking in case you get locked out of somewhere someday, but have I done it yet? No.) Without my key, I couldn’t simply unlock the door and get in. Being on the second floor, climbing in through a window was not an option. I didn’t have my phone, so calling my sister and hoping she’d pick up despite driving (after pulling over first, of course) was impossible. Calling anyone I know who has or might have lockpicks was also not an option. I stuck my hands in my pockets (fortunately, pockets!), but I had only my Swiss army knife and not even a single tissue. From inside, the cat demanded why I was taking so long to get back in.

And, not having my car key, the only way to get to someone who had a phone would be by walking. (I didn’t stop laughing aloud until I was halfway there — the people driving by must have thought I was insane.) Fortunately our pastor’s family is right in town and it takes slightly less than half an hour for me to walk to church, or at least it did the one time I timed myself with an eye to walking to church someday, back before we started having church in a pasture. It also takes half an hour to go between my house and our parents’. Olivia would get a call to come back as soon as she got home.

That is, if our pastor and his family hadn’t suddenly decided to go off for the day, I thought glumly as I rounded a corner and our church was in sight. And with the way this was going, they would have. And with the way this was going Olivia would drive all the way back only to find that the door was not really locked, only needed to be jiggled in a slightly new way.

“Self,” I said to me, walking up the last block of sidewalk, “are you really going to walk up to the door and say ‘My sister locked me out of my apartment, please help’?”

“Do you have any better ideas?” I asked. I did not.

I crossed the familiar church lawn and went up the parsonage steps and rang the bell. Pastor opened the door.

“Olivia locked me out of my apartment,” said the apparition on the doorstep, a little too hot and sweaty to be entirely uncorporeal, and burst into laughter.

I was able to explain the situation, and they called her, but of course, being a safe driver, she didn’t answer her phone.

(Pastor’s wife also asked if she could get me anything, and it being cottonwood season, I said, “I don’t have any tissues with me. . .” I think it says somewhere that whoever gives another a clean tissue for My sake has done it unto Me.)

When Olivia did get home and did answer she asked if I was sure the door was locked, and though I’d been sure at the time, of course I wasn’t now; so Pastor’s wife kindly drove me over to check (I wondered if I’d get up the stairs to find my lamp stolen; it wasn’t), and it was still very much locked. The cat cried out to me in bewilderment. We called Olivia back. She said she’d come down. “Don’t forget to bring the key,” I said.

Meanwhile, while her supper wasn’t getting cooked and my mushrooms were languishing in the fridge, I went back to the parsonage and chopped up vegetables for their supper there, not really having anything else to do anywhere. I could have gone down by the water, but at least two fishermen were down there already.

When Olivia arrived, we were formally invited to stay to supper, and upon accepting she ran over to my place to put the frozen chicken she’d brought down with her in my freezer (also taking the time to kindly remove my lamp from the hall). We ate, and she drove me back, and I have not gotten anything done. But I have laughed until my sides ached today.

Posted in Ordinary life | 2 Comments

An Ouncement


Fitting a shoulder seam

The series on my latest garb will continue, but it’s probably about time to tell you all about my newest project, since I’ve just finished the first part of it. Foundations Revealed has a yearly competition and I’ve decided to enter the next one, the prompt for which is to costume a book character. I might have set myself a bit too much of a challenge, because the character I decided on was an Entwife, not that Entwives are known to wear clothes — that was the first and biggest if of all of them. If an Entwife wore human clothes, and if those clothes were from a particular historical period, what might they be like? I jumped forward from my usual time to the thirteenth century (and we have actual surviving garments! We don’t have to speculate about everything! You probably have no idea how much easier that makes the whole process).

This means I have to make several new garments.

First (in order of being worn, not making), a sleeved gown, in brown and cream stripes (linen fabric) because trees have bark. I can use an extant garment, the gown of St Clare of Assisi, for a pattern. It will also be my first time doing sleeves that aren’t just rectangles sewn onto rectangles with a square gusset added, and I’m kind of nervous about that. They do say stripes had bad significances in the Middle Ages, but you will notice in the picture below that the person wearing stripes is not at all a bad person:

the Annunciation -  MS K.26, one of a sequence of 46 Biblical illustrations (c.1270-80) inserted at the front of a fourteenth-century Psalter (English)

My fabric’s pattern is narrower than this, though.

Second, a green sideless gown (pictured at top), which I finished last night. My green cyrtel needed sleeve gussets added and I would have had to mostly take the sleeves off to do that anyway, so when I started designing this project I thought, why not just turn it into a sideless and not spend more money on green wool when I have it right here. All the new stitching I did with wool thread instead of bright green nylon, though. Originally I turned the neck edge down just once, but this time I turned it again, so now the only visible nylon stitching, from the outside at least, is at the hem. Which has its own problems but turning it again too is on the list of things to do only if I somehow inexplicably wind up with loads of extra time.

This image, Feeding the Chicks, is from the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter, but the sideless in it looks like the thirteenth-century ones in all the important ways. It also strongly resembles mine in that the unevenness at the hem occurs in precisely the same place.

Feeding the Chicks. margin. Luttrell Psalter. England 14th cent. BL page19 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Third, a gardecorps like the one Queen Emma is wearing at the left of this picture:

Looky looky looky I finally found a full-length image and it's not all the way to the floor on her.

Only in pale blue wool with a yellow linen lining, made so as to be reversible, so you can wear the yellow side out in autumn and the blue one, for leafless branches, in winter. The blue wool is a blanket I already have and I’m going to have to be extremely careful with the cutting because there’s not too much of it. But piecing is period.

The last necessity is a St Brigitta’s cap with slight deviations in the embroidery to suggest leaves more than the geometric designs on the extant one — a choice I defend because “everything looking all the same” was not an ideal in the Middle Ages — is also necessary, as I don’t have hair of proper period length and am unlikely to by the end of January.

If I have time I’d like to make a belt bag too, and get a plausibly accurate belt to go with it, but we shall see. Both the sleeved gown and the gardecorps are going to be challenging in various ways, not least in that both have proper set-in sleeves, which I have never done before.

The contest’s deadline is the first of February, and since I already own much of the necessary fabric and have already found the rest of what I need, only waiting to order it because of technical difficulties with activating debit cards and boring grown-up things like that, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to finish in time. Unless I find myself titling a section of documentation “Sleeves of Doom” again.

Which is entirely possible.

Posted in History, Research, SCA, work in progress | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

An Eleventh-Century Englishwoman’s Cyrtel, part II

Artistic evidence

   Women are depicted many, many times in the last full century of Anglo-Saxon art. For the purposes of this paper I will have to exclude those wearing some kind of mantel (itself a highly debatable article), as it covers more than half of the cyrtel, but even so there’s no shortage of images. For the purposes of this paper, to show general tendencies, I have chosen five images from four manuscripts over the course of about eighty years.

The Benedictional of St Æthelwold 963-984 Add MS 49598  Folio 5v (detail of the Annunciation) She's writing! I love it! I also can't figure out what's going on with the sleeves.

   According to the Bodleian Library’s online entry for the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, this page (of which only half is here shown) is a miniature of the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, “preceding the benediction for the first Sunday in Advent”. (I love this Virgin and my geeking out over her (not to mention the other women in this Benedictional) cannot be confined to the limits of a paper about a merely tangential subject. See this post for a little more about her.)

   This manuscript, a collection of benedictions with lavish illustrations, is an example of the “Winchester School” of illumination around the end of the tenth century, a style recognizable by its creative ways of avoiding blank spaces and lavish use of colour. In the eleventh century a Continental influence asserted itself and brought in the line drawings and tiny fluttering draperies which characterize the other images I will use, and this style came to be unfashionably baroque. However, the draperies of pictures in the Winchester style are achievable by other kinds of fabric than silk, which is the only kind I have gotten to imitate the later ones, so perhaps in some ways it is more realistic. English clothing styles (in art, at least) did not change very quickly between the end of the tenth century and 1065, the end date of the latest of my examples, and given the remarkable clarity of this picture I thought I would begin here. The Benedictional shows a lot of women (and a lot of them, as here, with books of some kind — sometimes singing, or, as here, writing!!), but almost all are wearing mantels; this is one of the very few of a woman without. 

   To begin with, it is an example of a principle costume historians have to keep in mind when looking at pictorial sources from quite a lot of centuries — that an artist showing off expense in colour will not be the same as a maker of clothes showing off the same. A common example is blue: an artist may depict royalty in blue, but that does not mean royalty often wore blue — blue is one of the most expensive colours for the scribe to procure, being usually crushed lapis lazuli, whereas blue is one of the most common colours for a dyer, as woad and indigo are abundant and easy to find in Britain, and people of any station would wear it. Here, the Virgin wears a gold underdress with a purple cyrtel (which, thanks to the wrinkling the artist put in, is clearly pulled up and not merely short with an asymmetric hem), both rich colours — as you can see in the large version on the front of my paper, the gold is actual (flaking; but who wouldn’t be after a thousand years?) gold leaf. If a girl had such options in real life, especially in Anglo-Saxon England where “tasteful colours” weren’t a thing, surely the gold would be on the outside, where you see so much more of it. Some people did wear purple and gold, just probably not quite the way the artist has here depicted. 

  As in all the pictures, the veil hides the cyrtel’s neckline, the drapery hugs the body close enough to show the shape of the legs and belly underneath (although not as much as in some later examples, where, in the words of my sister, some people have serious static problems), we can see that the sleeves are loose (more on that in a minute), and the hem most likely covers the underdress when she’s standing. The purple band across her waist, if it is representing something in fat and not just a set of unusually straight lines, might be a belt or sash of the same fabric as the cyrtel; this is a possibility Owen-Crocker mentions too (p. 217). The gown is also less form-fitting than the bliaut of a later century, although (whether in actuality or by the artist’s whim or in the Byzantine tradition of art in which this is seen also) it doesn’t render her a shapeless heap. Although this Virgin doesn’t look like she’s been starving lately, either. Rectangles and triangles and straight lines can achieve this close-but-not-tight fit, in my experience. 

   The sleeves in this picture have given me some trouble, even in the very largest versions. The sleeve of her right arm is loose, but not extravagantly so, and its shape could well come from a rectangle sewn up one side. The line of her left-hand sleeve, however, goes down past her knee, as if it might be a huge rectangle, or one of the triangular sleeves seen quite frequently in the following century’s art. It is unlikely that the artist’s model’s sleeves were so mismatched; it is also unlikely that this is, after all, a woman in a purple mantel over a gold cyrtel — as the mantels, where we see them, do not have sleeves, and she obviously has at least one purple sleeve. Perhaps the artist got carried away in playing with line and drapery and forgot what he was doing there? Perhaps it’s an optical illusion due to an unclear intersection of lines? I am not sure; but given that her right sleeve is clear, I think we can discount the mantel possibility. It wouldn’t be the only place an artist got confused about sleeves.

Junius/Caedmon ms. Possible bun bump on lower right-hand lady.

Caedmon/Junius Manuscript. Eve's veil here looks like it might be a hood.

    My next examples are from the Junius Manuscript (Ms Junius 11, in the Bodleian), which was done in two parts sometime in the first half of the eleventh century, and the new art style already in full sway. Here I’ll only use the bottom panel of the first image, which is Lamech and his wives, who look unconvinced about something. Their garments cling to their bodies above, with plenty of folds about their feet below, which is commensurate with both gores in the skirts and a static problem (which last is probably only stylistic). The same can be seen in the figure of Eve in the image below, and Eve’s skirt appears to be hiked up somehow (without visible fasteners or belt, which seems a little unlikely) to show her shoes and ankles, probably for ease in walking on the rough ground she and Adam (who seems less resigned) must tread. Perhaps reflecting their middle- or working-class status, the sleeves of all three ladies are of generous width but still practical, without the pointed or boat-shaped sleeves people associate with the Anglo-Saxon era on the strength of the Emma portrait and the woman-fleeing-the-burning-building in the Bayeux ‘Tapestry’. We do see ‘impractical sleeves’ in the late Anglo-Saxon era, but sources from the wrong country (Emma) and era (the ‘Tapestry’) are not the right sources to draw on, still less when we can cite art from the right place and time. 

Detail: Mary, The New Minster Liber Vitae. It looks like she has a belt.

   Here we see another Virgin Mary, this time from the New Minster Liber Vitae. This small manuscript was completed in 1031, and carries on the style of the last two examples. The particular features of this gown are the sleeves, which are the wide pointed shape which seems to have come into fashion in this century, and a suggestion at the waist of a fold too narrow to be the gown pouched (as in the case of Eve above) and too contrary to the other lines to be an accident — it is quite possibly a belt.

Crucifixion, Weingarten Gospels, 1050-1065.

   This very lively crucifixion from the Weingarten Gospels, made for Judith, Countess of Flanders, is dated between 1050 and 1065. In scenes like this, Saints John and Mary are usually depicted standing one at each side of the cross, but also usually in postures of contemplation, or in Mary’s case, overwhelming grief. John’s careful and interested note-taking becomes a common motif, but is unusual this early in English art; and in this period Mary’s tender gesture is as far as I know without parallel. The small figure clinging to the foot of the cross has been identified as the Countess herself, although we don’t know for sure. A peculiar feature of her cyrtel (we also have a lovely clear view of one of the triangular sleeves) is the waist detail, which some writers (including Owen-Crocker) have interpreted as a sort of placket. Working on this hypothesis, Joy Selby Cain reconstructed the gown (with plain rectangular sleeves) and found that it worked. 

   St Mary’s cyrtel has extravagant sleeves too, and the folds of her skirt suggest centre as well as side gores — although this effect can be gotten with only side gores if you stand just right, she’s not standing that way here. Her cyrtel will turn out to be the one I most closely imitate. The sleeves of both women’s cyrtels have lines at the edge which Owen-Crocker (p. 178) theorizes to be a contrasting cuff, but could also be the edges turned back to show an otherwise unseen lining. 

   One note before I continue to the making process itself. This period is before the advent of surviving patterns for things, at least in this place, and probably clothesmakers did whatever worked best for them and the materials they had at hand; two gores or four, according to what you had or had time to do or liked the look of best, for example. And we see a good deal of variation in things like sleeves, veils, etc. in the art, anyway. So a principle I take with me in all my garb projects is that there’s no one right way to make a certain thing as long as it looks and behaves as much like your sources as possible, with common-sense construction methods and no deviation from known practice. For example, when dithering over whether to do triangular sleeves for this project, I held up the squares of fabric I’d cut for rectangular sleeves, in such a way that they naturally formed triangular ones instead, with only a top seam necessary. These would not have needed lining to be functional, and I found myself asking, would an upper-class woman of this period, working with similar materials, have decided to line or not based on whether it was necessary, or would aesthetic considerations (since the existence of such extravagant sleeves is itself unnecessary) have taken the primary place? As we will find out, lining them became a practical choice.

(To be continued, eventually. Neither images nor footnotes carry over from the document when I copy and paste, which will make successive installments tedious to prepare. They’ll come sooner or later.)

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An Eleventh-Century Englishwoman’s Cyrtel, Part I

Crucifixion, Weingarten Gospels/Gospels of Judith of Flanders, between 1051 and 1054


Historical documentation


Background – theory – artistic examples


   Late Anglo-Saxon garb, defined as British clothes from between the late tenth and mid-eleventh centuries,  is not a very popular period. Further, on the rare occasions people give it a go, even the most reputable costumers sometimes reinforce misunderstandings and outdated research, as so little of the newer and more reliable work is widely known. For example, I have found a few people, mainly via their dress diaries on the Internet, who have done female garb in this category, but most of them conceive of the outer dress as being knee-length. This is but one of the most obvious differences between the common interpretation of the evidence, and mine (following Owen-Crocker and others). On her blog, Joy Selby Cain records her experience recreating the dress of (possibly) Judith of Flanders from the Crucifixion scene of the Weingarten Gospels, which is full-length. I have not yet found any others. Many misguided impressions of British female dress in this period can be traced back to the Queen Emma portrait in the Encomium Emmae Reginae, which was not made in England at all but in France. Even if artwork of this period is attempting realism at all (a debated thesis), using art from one country to prove a point about something in another is not the best strategy. The existence of the short overgown so many recreators make is largely the fault — as are many things — of nineteenth-century historians and artists. 

   A more thorough examination of period sources reveals certain things, and is annoyingly unhelpful about others. For one thing, as a general rule the garments themselves do not survive. Gale Owen-Crocker, authour of Dress In Anglo-Saxon England, goes into detail about the Llan-gors fragment, a piece of a silk-embroidered linen garment for secular use (though we don’t know whether a man or a woman wore it), and remaining scraps of the vestments of St Cuthbert tell us something about vestments of the period, but beyond this, we have not recovered anything as far as I know. We are left to rely on literary evidence, such as the fascinating Indicia Monasterialia, a sign-language catalogue for an order of silent monks, and illustrations in manuscripts. Further difficulty arises when we add in how stylized pictorial art is in this period, and the accompanying nagging doubt that the artists were not trying to depict the clothing of their contemporaries. With the admitted resemblance to Byzantine iconography which many illustrations bear, how can we know these pictures are not so stylized as to be completely unrelated to what people actually wore? Even if we make a wide study of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from the tenth and eleventh centuries, avoiding those of Continental production, can we be certain of anything?

   Well, not really. This is often frustrating; however, consider the alternatives. We could try to stick only to extant materials, which are extremely slim pickings; we could try to get a picture from the vocabulary used in wills and other writings, as long as the texts in question aren’t fantastical works, although in such cases (especially with wills) the garments are named but not described; or we could settle for the artistic sources. It is true that they may not be entirely life-like in their depictions of people, or eschew realism for allegorized things, right down to the clothes of these fantastic personalities, with names like Fides and Veterum Cultura Deorum, but on the other hand they might — just might! — tell us what things are really like. With the usual caveats about artistic depictions of things not always being accurate in every detail, in any period, I think we may proceed in hopes of getting some general guidelines. At the very least, if we take examples from several different Anglo-Saxon manuscripts over different points of the last century of the era, we shall at least do better than the nineteenth-century historians who looked at the Queen Emma portrait and drew generalizations about a whole century of English dress from that one picture. 

   Owen-Crocker’s glossary of terms includes seven separate words for a garment worn by both sexes (pp. 334-5), though we don’t know much nuance beyond that; and of body garments for women, tunece and cyrtel (p. 337) (excluding undergarments). The former she defines as “man’s tunic, woman’s gown of dark colour, possibly worn by women on religious occasions; worn as night wear by monks; sufficiently valuable to be bequeathed by a woman in the tenth century (a post-conversion innovation)”, and the latter, the use of which I prefer, also as either a man’s tunic or a woman’s gown, and bequeathed by women in the tenth century,  but also “originally short, sometimes wool, sometimes fur”. While a fur tunic would be a lot of work for one unskilled in working with it (me), I can imagine it would be a great winter garment. However, in this project I am working with wool, so cyrtel (without making any short jokes) fits to a T. 

   The image above, from the Eadwine Psalter, shows a group of women working on fibre things together. This Psalter is “a much enhanced copy of the Utrecht Psalter” and while its exact date is uncertain, was not made before 1153, but I doubt so much had changed in the intervening century that women had ceased to work together. Owen-Crocker demonstrates that as a whole, though arguably not universally, textile production was women’s work at this time, and so we learn much about women’s history as well as the textiles produced in Britain at the same time (DiASE chapter VIII “Textiles and textile production”). Whole communities, such as York, were centred around cloth production. And indeed, in a pre-machine age where all parts of a garment must be hand-made — including raising the more-or-less free-range sheep who provide the raw wool — the concept/prospect of one person producing a single garment all by herself is staggering. Someone has to shear the sheep, someone has to wash the wool and comb or card it and in many cases dye it, someone has to spin it — “For all but the highest ranking Anglo-Saxon women,” Owen-Crocker says (p. 281), “spinning must have been a constant occupation, for the ratio of hours necessarily spent on spinning before weaving could take place were probably about 10:1.” From my own experience I can testify that it is possible, with the help of a distaff, to spin while walking, but one would have to fill many hours with that single activity in order to produce the seemingly-endless quantity needed to make enough thread to weave cloth enough for a garment. And then the weaving! Numerous patterns were available to the English, who had the use of warp-weighted looms, some requiring a lot of time and attention to set up properly and then continue without making mistakes. Then the precious fabric had to be cut with a minimum of waste, for wasting fabric produced this way is not merely a waste of the fabric itself but of the time and effort (and other materials, if the dyes used were costly) that had gone into the whole process up to that point. Then handsewing, with more of the same spun thread, before you had something wearable. It is no wonder that clothes were bequeathed in wills side by side with other objects of great value, cut down and worn out, handed down to a relative when one outgrew them. . . 

   Women of all but the highest strata of society would therefore have put a great deal of time into making clothes of every kind, including those they wore themselves. A wealthy woman might well have commissioned a garment from her social inferiors, who would have handled and shaped high-status materials they would never have worn. The linguistic evidence previously cited indicates no societal division as to whether the cyrtel was restricted to people of a certain class. Illustrations show women of all kinds wearing the same general garments.

   In almost all cases of women in illustrations we see the gown reaching to the feet with no indication at the bottom of the layer below it being visible. Sleeves vary but tend toward fullness, and at times what appears to be the sleeve of the undergarment (smoc) is visible; hems sometimes puddle on the ground or end high enough to reveal the shoes. This is about all we know, as drawings are not detailed enough to show us seams, as in later-period art, and we have neither existing pattern books nor any complete garments. 

(To be continued in our next.)

So footnotes, along with all my images and other formatting, don’t carry over when I copy and paste things, it would seem. I’ll lump all my sources together in the bibliography at the end of this series. 

Posted in History, Non-fiction, Research, SCA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Notes on the NS Arts and Sciences Competition

. . . from over a month ago. Yeah. Sorry.

February was a pretty insane month, and when I got back from the A&S comp. I had to charge right back into a full workload while also preparing for an event of a very different sort at the end of the following week, so I didn’t get to write about the day in full as has been my custom. But I did write down some things to remember, which I’ll share here.

People have been encouraging me to enter the Northshield A&S competition for a while now, and I finally got up courage and presence of mind and a partially-finished project all at the same time and entered this year. The Black Wasp garb experiment was finally nearing completion, after I’d been picking it up and dropping it several times over about a year and a half, and at the time I was pretty confident I could have it and the documentation done in plenty of time. (Every other entrant in every other A&S thing ever said “Ha!”)

I must be getting better at something, because the drive from my place to Winona was perfectly uneventful. I stopped by work first to get a smiley-face cookie for Olivia, and put it by the side passenger door of the van, so that when I arrived (she saw me coming and knew it was me, she says, “because I saw a van go into the wrong parking lot and have to turn around”) and she opened the door to help me unload, it was staring at her. She let out a delighted shriek which could be heard through the whole parking lot, not that anyone was there to hear it.

Because it was the day before the start of Spring Break, I wasn’t allowed to spend the night in Olivia’s room. She’d found this out too late for me to seek out crash space with SCAdians, so she asked John Paul of her quartet if his family had an extra room. So after a quiet, leisurely supper together, we went to find their place, Olivia driving ahead and me following her.

Reader, we got lost.

Twenty-five minutes after we were supposed to have gotten there, we found the place. I was a bit worried (about many things, at that point) because although Olivia and John Paul are good friends, his parents had never met the person who was showing up and spending the night in their house. But my fears were groundless; they welcomed us and made us very much at home. We played Quirkle, and geeked out when Gjeilo’s The Ground came on the radio, and some of us overthought things, and I finished the Black Wasp garb.

Olivia picked me up in the morning, as she was heading home, and the plan was for me to follow her to site. We headed off, and once again —

We got lost.

Guess whose fault it was that both times I was following her we ended up on the wrong road in the middle of nowhere.

Site opened to royalty and contestants at eight, and to the populace at nine o’clock, and we had left a little after seven. According to Google Maps it should have taken us fifty minutes. But apparently we can’t do math, because we finally got to site at eight thirty-five.

I had not dressed before leaving, because I’ve driven in Sleeves of Doom before (those were an unplanned addition, about which more when I edit and post the documentation) and that wasn’t something I wanted to add to the morning drive. So we hauled all my things in and I got dressed and Olivia took a couple of pictures and then I found my table and set up what I had brought to display, since I was wearing my entry and couldn’t well lay it out, and I finished breakfast and tried to be calm.

Derbail was there, and she had heard about my project, and was impressed that I had succeeded (even at the last minute) in handsewing a garment with handspun thread, so she showed me off to people she knew, who were all very congratulatory. One of them was so impressed that he started bringing people around to see.

My spot was at one of the tables at the edge of the room and the chairs along that side all faced the wall, so that my back was to the room. Which was fine as far as removing some distraction, but since I was also instructed to stay put (so that the peers and other scary people who kept being brought over could count on finding me), meant I didn’t really get to see most of the other projects. I heard enough to know there was some pretty stunning stuff, though. I didn’t get to stay to the end of Court to hear the winners announced, wanting to get on the road before it was fully dark, which almost didn’t happen, but I’m not going to get into that here. Suffice to say that, as usual, getting back was a hassle and involved me going into a gas station in garb.

My judges gave me lots of things to work on, but they were kind about it and I was all excited to rewrite my documentation and make notes for future cyrtels. . . and then I got back and got sick and had the second weekend and then March turned into several years.

But! Some of the best parts of the day:

The Baroness of Nordskogen came by toward the end of the day when I was thinking of packing up, and we talked about bone needles, and she gave me one — it’s much smaller than the one I was using, with a flat point, and we speculated on whether that made going between threads easier, because when you have an intersection of four threads the space between them isn’t naturally round but rectangular. (And then I first tried it out on tablecloth fabric, which breaks a lot of rules, so I can’t say conclusively yet).

One of the people who came by and picked up my documentation said “Let’s be honest, I’ll just skim”, opened to the first page, read a bit, laughed, and ended up reading the whole thing, and complimented my writing style.

Her Excellency Elashava came by and took pictures of my needle and thread and my garb, and gave us candy she’d made.

Not least of all, Her Grace Petranella Fitzallen of Weston, Laurel in garb and my first Queen, was one of the peers the Very Enthusiastic Gentleman brought over, and she read my documentation, and when she handed it back she said, “I’m impressed.”



Photo credit: HE Elashava Bas Riva. The food was not part of my display, nor the anachronistic cotton and knitting needles I was using as a lucet. Not pictured, but part of the display, are a ball of the thread and the needle I used, and the paperweight for pressing seams. Conveniently not shown is the hem. Veil’s doing a funny undocumented thing.



Photo credit: yours truly, Sunday morning after event

These are the material things I brought home from the event. On the left is the site token a pair of snips, with their leather case. In the bowl — part of my feast gear — beginning at top are the candy from Elashava; a tiny metal coin or favour or something which showed up, with lettering on it that appears to be Arabic; a key from Belle, the card attached to which says “You inspire me!”; the new (to me) bone needle; and the pin from Her Majesty, who as far as I know gave every entrant one.

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Also, so late is this post that today is Maundy Thursday. Therefore you should listen to these pieces:

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