Friday, July 25, 2014

A winner! *Now with bonus pictures!*

of the needlebook and medieval pins! 
Please email me ( with your address so I can send you your prize, Mathilde.

This was a really fun project to put together, and I think the prize was well worth winning. But of course, I would, as I made it! Here's a few pictures of what Mathilde will be receiving in the mail. 

The book itself is made of a thick crimson wool.
The page inside is a lighter-weight navy blue wool, stitched in place with red silk thread. 

Black and pale gold wool are worked for the edge binding,
and a small brass bead tops the tassel for an extra touch of fancy. 


I'm a big fan of marginalia, those quirky, colorful drawings that wend their way along the edges of medieval manuscripts. These images are useful to me because not only are they clever and engaging, they also can show us glimpses of what people were really like back then: what they thought about aspects of their life, what scared them, what made them laugh.

Today I read an article that is a great introduction to what's going on around the print edges of those old manuscripts. You can find it here. And if you're already a fan, like me, perhaps you'll find more to interest you in the British Library's blog -- it's a fun place to browse around on a rainy afternoon. 

The illuminated manuscript I see most commonly referenced is the Luttrell Psalter. Its margins are full of everyday medieval life, along with wicked beasts and battling animals. There's a movie that's been made by reenactors that really brings the Luttrell margin artwork to life. I think I've linked it here before, but it's so good I'll put it up again. Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Suitable Gift and a Giveaway!

I feel compelled to take a few small things to hand out as gifts at Camlann. I know it's odd; if I this were a trip to Disneyland, I certainly wouldn't be packing little doodads to give to Mickey and Goofy. But Camlann -- it's different. I'm just so pleased to have such a nice place within reasonable driving distance, where I can indulge my interests and not feel weird and alone. These folks get me! They understand! I like what they're doing. And I want so much for them to like me in return. Therefore, small gifts in appreciation of their hard work and vision, and as a token of friendship.

I don't have time to make anything very fancy, like small embroidered bags or linen coifs, but I think a needle book with handmade pins in it is something anyone could use. Dress pins, wimple pins, and a fancy beaded pin to decorate a hat, perhaps.

A search for "how to make medieval pins" lead me to Katafalk, and her clear, concise tutorial on how to make a period-style pins. A quick trip to the craft shop and fifteen dollars later, I had a basic set of tools for wire jewelry making and a coil of 20 gauge silver-plated wire.

Once home and in my shop, it took about ten minutes to make my very first pins.

It was very difficult to get a good picture of them, they're so shiny! I'm pleased with the results, even for a first attempt. After dinner I sat down with my bead box and made some longer decorative pins. I remembered seeing some on the Medieval Silkwork blog that had beads on them. I guess I got a little carried away and mine are quite fancy; more like hatpins. They're about three inches long (plus the beaded part) and in this picture they still need to be tempered and straightened but I can't do any of that now as it would wake the household sleeping in on Saturday morning.  What do you think? Too much? Should I reel it back to just one simple bead on each pin? I'm going to keep looking and see if I can't find some extant support for my fancy veil pins, but any help is appreciated.

I've decided to make an extra needle book and set of pins (six dress pins, four wimple pins, and one fancy beaded pin) as a prize for a lucky reader who will be chosen at random from the comments on this post, because you also get me, and understand, and hopefully like what I'm doing. Leave a comment and I will do the drawing next Friday!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I am a medieval elephant!

I've been writing this blog now for almost three years, and while I am increasingly confident in my abilities and I'm certainly not afraid of a challenge, I've noticed that I'm in kind of a rut when it comes to dressing myself. All of my 14th century dresses are cut from the same basic bodice pattern, and I cut the skirt and gores depending on how much fabric I have. I do this because I know the fit of my basic bodice is reliable, reasonably attractive, and in keeping with period standards.

At least I think so. I mean, I do my research and look at extant garments (online) and patterns from reliable sources. My fabrics are strictly 100% linen and wool and I use linen or silk thread when available. I stitch by hand using methods and stitches appropriate to the 14 century.

But I don't know anyone personally who does what I do. I don't have a mentor or guide who can look at my stuff and suggest improvements.  I feel like one of those medieval painters who rendered animals they had never actually seen before, just read descriptions of, and ended up with elephants that looked like this:

I mean, it resembles an elephant: there are the tusks, and the trunk, and ... is that meant to be hair? Where are the ears? If you'd never seen an elephant before and someone said "There, that is an elephant." you would be very impressed that this sort of beast existed and probably never question the accuracy of the portrait.

So here I am making my clothing and feeling pretty good about how it looks. My friends are all super-impressed that I can sew and whatever I present for inspection draws appreciative comments. But I have very little idea if what I'm making compares favorably with the sort of standards I'd like.

I'm not fishing for compliments. What I want is honest critique from a knowledgeable source. Are my necklines too low or too wide? Am I leaving out important details? How can I get more variety in my dress style and learn newer, more challenging skills?

If you can offer suggestions, or know of a forum where I can ask questions and learn, please let me know in the comments. Thank you!

St James and some sleeves

Yesterday I got a note on Facebook that Camlann Medieval Village is having their St James Faire this coming weekend, with puppet shows, knightly combat, minstrels, and other festive events. Oh, that sounds lovely!  I thought. I wish I could go, but I'm pretty sure I have tons of clients this weekend, and besides, we just got back from OCF and our fun budget is probably just about depleted. 

I looked at their webpage again, wistfully remembering what a relaxing time we had when we went last summer. Next thing I knew, I had the browser window open to my work calendar. Holy cow, look at that -- only one client on Sunday, at 9 in the morning. And Camlann's festival starts at noon. That's plenty of time to make the drive there. And admission is only ten dollars!  I decided it was worth suggesting to Dave, and he said whatever makes me happy is fine -- and I promised to make him a new pair of pants to wear, I was so pleased.

The weather is predicted to be around 70 degrees, very mild and even cool, so I'm thinking this will be the first event for my new blue wool gown. In a frenzy of excitement, I made sleeves and stitched the lacing eyelets -- and even braided a quick cord to lace up the front. It's no picnic having a wool dress in your lap when it's 92 degrees outside and the house feels like an oven, but needs must. Now all  I need to finish is the bottom hem and it's a done deal.

I've got Imogene dialed down to her smallest size because I needed a picture of a small tunic I'm trying to sell. No time to crank her back up to "me" size -- and besides, I don't use her for proper sewing methods anyway. She's really just a mannequin for me to use in picture-taking and to let wool gowns hang and drape before I put in the hems. Stay tuned for pictures of the dress in actual wear soon!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crafting on the Go!

They say the devil finds work for idle hands. I don't suppose that will ever be a problem for me, because I keep finding new things to do and try. Case in point: crochet.

Now, I have tried knitting and I know I hate it. Working those two needles is somehow just impossibly ungainly for me. Nalbinding I like quite a lot, but it's irritating to keep having to splice in new bits of yarn just when I'm getting into a rhythm. While I was at the craft shop getting more twill tape to finish the ties on the tent walls, I saw all the rows and rows of lovely skeins of colorful yarn and thought, maybe it's time to give crochet a shot.

Sure! It can't be all that hard, and it'll be the perfect thing to take along on this weekend's camping excursion. I pictured myself sitting around our campsite in the evening, listening to Dave play his guitar or talking with our friends, industriously working away with my crochet hook. Yes, this is a good idea!

A craft shop's main purpose in life is to get you hopelessly excited about something and sell you every book and accessory they can, so I felt quite pleased with myself for only buying a little instruction booklet with five beginner projects in it and a ball of cotton yarn. The book's (and therefore my) first project is to make a simple square coaster.

But how was I going to arrange and carry my supplies? I needed a workbasket or something to keep my ball of yarn in to keep it clean and organized. After thinking on it for a bit, I came up with this:

Just a simple quart canning jar. I cut a piece of leather to fit as a lid with the ring, and punched a hole in the middle for the yarn to come out. A leather strap is held in place with a twist of wire, and two holes are punched in the strap so I can run my crochet hook into it when I'm not using it. It's very portable, and I could even hang it from my belt!

Of course there's a concern that the jar could get broken by some accident, so a certain amount of care needs to be taken in handling, but for the most part I think it's very cunning and cute. Maybe I'll make a leather cozy for it, to help it weather life's little mishaps a bit more safely. I'm already picturing something with a punched design. But that will have to wait until after this weekend's camping trip -- and until I decide if I like crochet!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Belt done yet..?

Not quite. Because suddenly I decided that it needed a little bit more. And so I'm adding a few pearls. They're made from glass, not real actual pearl, but better than plastic. They have a nice glow to them that I think is a good counterpoint to the shine of the findings.

And yes, I'm struggling mentally about the imperfect spacing between elements. I didn't measure them exactly with a tape or anything because I felt that back in the day when women adorned things with simple repeating designs like this, they might have just eyeballed it --and hooray for authenticity. If I hadn't made the decision to add the pearls, I might have gotten away with it. And I'll probably just go ahead on and let it be what it is unless it looks really obvious.. Next time, though, I'll be a bit more discerning about my in-betweens.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sew In Tents!

I promise I'll stop with the tents/tense puns as soon as they stop making me smile. Honest. Also, I learned how to format the width of my writing space, so now I can make my pictures a little bigger and easier to see!

I stitched up all the panels last night. As all the sides are the same size and the main function for the walls is sun and wind protection, I've only made three panels, figuring we will always have one side open to the great outdoors. We have another tent for sleeping in, so privacy is not a huge issue.

Half-inch twill tape is stitched at intervals to make ties to attach the walls to the frame. A slip knot  is used so when it's time to break camp, a quick tug on the short tail of each knot loosens it. These pictures were taken before the ties going down the sides were sewn on, so the panels look more flappy than they will be when properly secured. I just wanted you to get an idea of the ongoing progress. There will be two ties going down the corner posts, and a loop at the bottom hem for a tent peg to secure them to the ground, plus two ties at the middle opening so we can tie them shut or pull them back like curtains, if desired.

Sally, my sewing machine, worked hard to punch through the five-plus layers of middleweight cotton fabric. She's a persnickety stitcher; there's only one bobbin I've found that she likes and won't turn into a knot of snarly tangles, and the heavy-duty needle I wanted to use was another no-go. "I can do it just fine with my regular needle, thank you very much. Just give me a moment." She can't help it -- she's made in England and has that stiff-upper-lip, no nonsense work attitude. Gotta love these vintage Singers and their little quirks.

Looking at it now, I'm thinking if I had it to do again, I'd pick a lighter-colored fabric, to help reflect sun and to look brighter. But as I got the entire bolt of 20+ yards of fabric for $10, I'm not going to complain.  After I stitch on the rest of the ties and give it all a quick treatment with water repellent, I'll post pictures of the finished tent in all it's glory. Stay tuned!