Greenland Gown Project

I was challenged by Mistress Magge at Laurel’s Prize to make something wonderful, practical, and beautifully worked for myself, as most of the stuff I do is for others. It’s extra sad when it comes time to show off a body of work because none of your best efforts are in your hands. Also, I tend to forget to take care of myself, and it’s good to remember that I’m important in my life and deserve the same love and generosity I show others. Enter the great Greenland Gown Project!

20131007-163901.jpgMistress Magge was kind enough to walk me through constructing an 8-gore dress from one of the Greenland finds. I desperately need to make new clothes for myself, so it was a timely challenge. I had the right amount of deep purple linen at home, so I set to work. It was simple to pattern and efficient on yardage, so I imagine I’ll make more of these.

I’ve decided to hand sew the whole thing because it’s not as fussy as my late period stuff is. And because I wanted to feel smug about it. I don’t think I’ll do all hand sewing next time, though. It’s been a very satisfying thing that’s going faster than I thought it would.

Considering that there are a lot of these seams to double herringbone, I feel like my progress is about to slow considerably…

 

King’s Gauntlets: Color

White on beige was boring me to death, so I started in on the red. I know that every hour I spend stitching is progress, but filling in the background goes faster than the white leaves and makes me feel like I’m finally getting somewhere on this! I may be procrastinating doing the goldwork for the V…

I think these are going to turn out wonderfully well in the end. I got great tips on this kind of finer embroidery and on making it ready for applique at the Laurel’s Prize Tournament this past weekend. Gotta love being able to avoid pitfalls before you even knew they existed…

20131015-152948.jpg

King’s Gauntlets: Progress!

I’ve been working away on the gauntlet patches every night before bed. They’re coming along nicely! I’m using Soie de Algers and am very pleased with it. It’s so lovely and soft and shiny – really, it’s hard to believe that a year ago I didn’t believe a fellow artisan when she told me that it was so nice to work with I’d never want to go back to good old DMC floss. Truth be told, I want to embroider things just so I  can work with the lovely silk. I feel very lucky to have a fancy needlework store in town that carries an abundance of silk and wool supplies.

Originally, I had bought silk plied through with a single strand of gold lamè to do the gold bits. A couple dozen hours into the first one of these patches, and I decided that I couldn’t do all this work with teensy strands of posh silks and top it with something so glaringly not medieval. So I went back to the fancy needlework store to ask about goldwork supplies. My research on or nuè made it seem like an easy solution for dealing with the gold bits, plus they’d be visually arresting.

“How hard can it be?” I said to myself. Yeah… no. Japan gold doesn’t turn a corner well. It kinks and bucks the turn. I think it took me two hours to untangle it after I thought it might work like a normal skein of embroidery floss. This little crown is actually made of evil and took another couple of frustrating hours to fill even though it’s only about the size of an Altoid. If I ever think of trying goldwork again, please remind me of how horrid this little bit of it was.

20131003-173137.jpg

Unfortunately, Abraham put his wet muppet mustache on the fabric before I started, so I had to redraw the lines. Turns out Micron pens are not interchangeable with any old fine felt-tip pen.

Still, I think everything is coming along well for my first fine embroidery project – and the gold looks amazing, even if it is a total pain to work with.

20131015-153316.jpg

Instacoll Gilding

20131003-172632.jpgLook at this fancy A just waiting to be covered in gold leaf. No, it’s not made out of caramel. It’s a gilding size called Instacoll, which can be used alone within a fixed window of time, or as part of a two step system that lets you activate the size at any time. This is a favorite material of some very big name calligraphers, so it seemed like a good place to go after my experiments in gesso went so poorly. All of the examples were done on calfskin vellum.

I’m using it as a one step process, sans activator. Since this is a thick letter, I let it dry for as long as it wanted, then painted a thin, watered down coat over it, let it dry maybe 30 minutes, then gilded.

The Good: I like the Instacoll a lot. It’s easy to work with, already comes tinted this yellow ochre color, and cleans up well. It activated easily with the breath. In the areas that aren’t the A (see below) and weren’t so thick and big, it behaved perfectly and gave lovely, smooth as glass surfaces to work on. They make a version that’s thinned to an ink consistency for lettering, which is nice, as this is too thick to letter wigilded ath. If you want to do mostly flat gilded lettering, I would recommend ordering the Instacoll ink rather than trying to thin this.

The Not Exactly Bad: It doesn’t offer any stunning improvements over any other modern size when it comes to building up big, smooth pillow letters. Gesso still wins on that front. This one didn’t crater like it would have with PVA, but it settled a little, drying to a fine, leathery texture. Watered down coats filled it in well enough, but it took several of them and never did wind up as smooth and lovely as it looked before it dried.

What I Learned: Next time I work with it, I may burnish the Instacoll a little with agate to see if it smooths out. Or, for these kinds of puffy gilding surfaces, it may be better to build them up slowly over several days with thin coats, then use the activator.

…and then I painted it in with my homemade paints. In a fit of being overly-confident, I did the lettering without making sure it all actually fit on the page first. It was in iron gall ink I made with friends a few weeks back, which is great stuff that stands the test of time. How? By eating into whatever you’re writing on. oopsThat means I couldn’t wipe it off. I tried to scrape it off with a scalpel and was doing well taking down the thinnest layers of vellum until I scrubbed at it with the blade and went right through the paper. Ugh.

Good thing I’m researching period materials and methods for this year’s Kingdom A&S competition, as I can use this mistake to have learned a number of lessons and practice the art of removing mistakes from your vellum with it.

 

King’s Gauntlets: The Beginning

I’ve been asked to do the King’s Gauntlets for the new reign. They’re an award given for service above and beyond to His Majesty. It’s an actual leather gauntlet that’s been decorated plus a framed award scroll.

For the glove, I’m doing an embroidered cipher in the style of a 13th century illuminated versal. HRM Aaron V picked which option he liked best, and I’ve gotten to work.

20131003-172539.jpg

Here’s the design. It’s about 3″ square, to be done in silk and attached by appliqué to the glove leather. Oh yeah… There’s two of them to do!

Making Medieval Paints

I went to the Known World Heraldry and Scribal Symposium last weekend, which is the international conference on heraldry and scribal arts for the SCA, a medieval recreation group I’m heavily involved in. It just so happened to be in San Antonio, so how could I pass up the opportunity? I was one of the people selected to teach and gave a lecture on working with quills – factors that affect performance, how to start using them, how to troubleshoot your work with them. There were some wonderful classes for all levels of expertise, and one of the most exciting for me was one on making your own paints. This has been on my list for a while, and then my mom cleaned out her studio and gave me a big container of dried and ground pigments. Clearly, it’s a sign.

The process is pretty easy. Pigment + egg + a little water = paint. You can make two kinds of paint with eggs: a shiny, permanent tempra paint with the yolk, and a watercolor style paint with glair (something you make from the clear part of the egg white). The glair watercolor can be reconstituted with a wet brush and/or a little more glair, much like the cakes of paint children use. The basics really are that simple. However… we’re going off of instructions that are a few hundred years old and sort of in shorthand. There’s room for some clarification and definitely room for some experimentation to see what gives the best result. Take eggs – unrefrigerated fresh yard eggs vs. free roaming happy chicken but refrigerated eggs vs. cheap watery store eggs all perform and taste very different in cooking, so I’m guessing they make a different paint product. The yolks go from thick and almost orange to thin and watery in that order, so the paint would be very different, I would think. Starting with the best ingredients always makes getting good results easier, so I’m on a mission to find out what works and why. Since I’m trying to learn to work with exclusively medieval materials and would really like to take this in to do a visual comparison on manuscripts at the HRC, I’m working on calfskin vellum that has been prepped for manuscript use.

Making Paints 1

Take the glair, for instance. You are instructed to “foam” the eggs well, until no liquid remains, then let the stuff sit for at least 24 hours. Scrape off and discard the remaining foamy scummy bits, then save the liquid egg weep that has come out of it. This is your glair and will keep for a very, very long time, particularly if you didn’t get any of the milky bits or membranes into it. Kinda gross, really cool. Unlike plain old egg whites, it is not a slippery, slimy mess that doesn’t want to mix nicely. It makes a slick, lovely paint in seconds. It’s a revelation in comparison to my experiment making ink, which just said to mix soot and honey with egg white and water (think about trying to write with scrambled eggs. ew).

Anyway, foaming the egg is vague. Is it just kinda foamy? Approaching a soft meringue? Hard peaks? Logic says this is doing something to the proteins, so surely the amount of mixing matters. Maybe foaming an egg was a medieval shorthand anyone would understand, the way we can say “soft peaks” and know when to stop the mixer. I understand the imprecision because I cook. Ingredients vary in flavor, juiciness, sweetness, size seasonally, and it takes experience to know the subtleties and how to work around them to get consistent results.

My dad might have pulled my husband aside and told him marrying an artist was expensive, but something tells me he forgot to mention the part about tiny jars of weird, gross, and very possibly dangerous stuff everywhere…