Sunday, 9 October 2016


Back when Boss Laurel and I set up this apprenticeship malarkey, there were terms and conditions. One of the things I had to do was make myself an apprentice belt. (Context for the non-SCA readers - there's a tradition within the Society that apprentices wear belts, usually green, to mark their status. Frequently the belt is a gift from the Laurel to the apprentice, but not always.)

The belt didn't have to be green, in my case, but I had to make it myself. And when I say "make it myself", I mean I had to do all the steps the craftsperson would have done in the Middle Ages. So, had I made a leather belt, I could have bought a metal buckle, but I'd probably have had to tan my own leather.

The mission was further complicated by two things. One - I don't like wearing belts. Two - I already have two green apprentice belts, both of which were gifts from dear friends and are what I wear all the time. So whatever I made needed to be not at all belt-like and also not duplicate the function of either of the others I already own.

I put the whole thing on the back burner, mostly to give myself time to mull it over and figure out what I'd actually wear. Then the 16th century happened and I basically made myself a new court outfit in the style of the English 1540s. What I never did get around to making for it was a jewelled girdle, because jewelry-making is WAY outside my comfort zone. Also, it's expensive, and it's hard to find table-cut gemstones.

Then I came across this portrait and found another option:
Copyright the Royal Collection
Specifically, this bit of it:
Looking at it closely, it's essentially a string of pearls with a chain and medallion hanging off the front. Even I can manage that!

I set off to my favourite crack dealer needlework supply shop and came home with an assortment of artificial pearls, gold beads, and gold chain. I had considered threading all of it on silk, but I want this to be sturdy enough to survive more than one event, so I decided to buy tiger tail. The nylon component is modern, but jewelry on wire is accurate.

Once I got home, I spent mumble-mumble hours with a bead reamer smoothing the insides of the beads. Again, this is for long-term survival of the girdle - any sharp edges run the risk of wearing through the wire.

There's no clasp visible in the painting, but it has to fasten somehow. I've used a hook and eye and put them at the front of the pearl strand - it'll be easier to put the girdle on, and it means I can use the hook to attach the chain and pendant.

I've used the gold beads to space out the pearls because the shop didn't have enough pearls in the right size to fit my waist.

The pendant is a silver and garnet Christmas decoration my mother bought me in Istanbul years ago. It needs a good polish, but it's pretty and does a good impression of the pomander pendants on many of the girdles shown in portraits.

And finally, the finished girdle.

Photos with the full outfit next month - it takes nearly an hour to get into it, and I need assistance from someone better with hoopskirts than my spouse!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Exhibition review - Opus Anglicanum at the V&A

Yesterday evening I went to the members' preview of the new Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A, courtesy of my lovely colleague. It was, in a word, amazing. No photos allowed, sadly, so this will have to be words only.

The exhibition itself fills about five rooms of the museum's flexible exhibition space. It comprises 83 objects, mostly embroideries, but also a nice range of stained glass, needlework tools, tiles, and brass rubbings (among other things!). The objects are nicely spaced out, so there's plenty of room to look around. Also, many of the cases are glass on both sides so you can see all the way around the objects. The signage and labelling is also really good, plenty of information about the thread AND the ground fabric, including notes about the weave structure. There was one button I wanted to know more about, but that was the only problem.

The embroideries themselves are mostly ecclesiastical, but there are also pieces from court inventories as well as fragments too small to identify. They span about 350 years, with most of the collection dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. In addition to the more usual gold-and-silk on linen, there are also examples of some more unusual things, including a seal bag that is the only known extant piece of medieval English wool inlaid work (on loan from Westminster Abbey, no webpage available), and a chasuble which is the earliest known example of kanzi fabric in England. (Kanzi is an Iranian blend with a silk warp and cotton weft.) The objects on display are from a number of collections outside the V&A, including the British Library and the National Museum of Iceland, among others.

The lighting is low for preservation purposes, and as mentioned above there was no photography permitted. Plan to bring a sketchbook if you're not going to get the catalogue.

Speaking of the catalogue, it's 310 pages of hardcover, full-colour yumminess, well worth the £35 price tag. It weighs nearly 2kg, but it was definitely worth hauling home. In addition to the full catalogue, there are also eight essays detailing the context of Opus Anglicanum, its methods of work, the materials used, and the relationship between the English embroidery industry and the rest of Europe. There's a full glossary and an extensive bibliography. Additionally, each catalogue entry has its own set of citations where the object has previously been studied.

In summary, I'll paraphrase my excited Facebook post from last night:

If you are interested in historic embroidery. If you are interested in historic textiles generally. If you are interested in any sort of embroidery. If you are interested in heraldic display. If you are interested in 13th-century trade networks. If you are interested in ceremonial clothing. If you are interested in the relationship between medieval embroidery design and its contemporary artworks. GO.

Monday, 5 September 2016

In which I muse on curtains and growing up

I grew up in a home filled with handmade textiles. My mother made most of the soft furnishings, everything from blankets to tablecloths to embroidered guest hand towels. And that doesn't even cover the decorative things like tapestry cushions and Christmas tree ornaments. It was (and is) cozy in my mother's home, soft and warm and welcoming.

Inevitably, I started to do the same with my own home when I moved out. It's a very different style, to be sure, but I have handmade blankets on the bed and crocheted cushions on the sofa, along with lace snowflakes on the Christmas tree and samplers on the wall. "It's what grown-ups do," says the little voice in the back of my head.

The one thing I had never done was make my own curtains. That's Mom's thing. Actual curtains to keep in the warmth at night and sheers for privacy's sake during the day. I had never needed them, but the Spouse and I recently moved into a ground-floor flat that faces the road. It was a choice between making sheers or never opening the blinds.

Mom came through with a set of surplus sheers from her previous house that didn't fit her new windows, along with the leftover fabric in case I needed to make more. Good thing, too: the picture window in our bedroom took two curtains, so we were one short.

I had planned to leave the existing curtains as they were, but they were longer than the window openings and were driving me potty. So I spent the afternoon hemming the existing four and making one all by myself.

It's such a strange thing, really, but I had been terribly intimidated at the thought of making my own curtains. I don't know why - it's not like I've never hemmed interminable rectangles of fabric before. But somehow this was a much bigger deal than making garb or knitting socks. Maybe it was because Mom hasn't made any curtains since I left home, at least not that I've watched her make. All my memories of the process are from before I really started sewing properly.

I feel like I've levelled up or gotten bonus adulting points or something. Clearly it's time to have ice cream for supper.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

I don't even have a real excuse.

Life has been busy. Crazy busy. Running a ten-day SCA event for 150+ people on the other side of the country busy. I've been making stuff, but haven't really been up to posting much.

However, all this is behind me! The event is over! No-one died and the castle is still standing! I can make stuff again!

Things I am currently working on:

Yet another 16th-century shirt. This was one I bartered for some fencing armour and it's long overdue. Collar and cuffs embroidered, plain everything else.

A complete maintenance overhaul of all our garb and other bits. This is ongoing, but I've gotten a lot done, including darning some hose, reinforcing a bunch of seams, attaching trim, and regluing the soles of shoes. Most of what's left is finishing inside seams, but I have a pair of sleeves that need to be finished, too.

A crocheted Thing. Might be a shawl. Might be a blanket. I have no idea how big it's going to be when all the yarn has been used up, but it's mindless and good for my commute. (Oh yeah, I have a train commute now. We moved back in January.)

There are some major repairs pending on Spouse's wool coat after it got trapped in the suitcase wheels and dragged along the pavement earlier this year. Fortunately Mother Mine had leftovers of the fabric...

Saturday, 19 September 2015


That was the sound of July, August, and most of September whizzing past me. Sorry about that. Things have been pretty hectic in Fiendishland. Raglan happened at the beginning of August. It was fabulous and stressful - fabulous for seeing people and doing things, stressful because I was helping to run it and we had a food co-op this year. Anyway.

New Frock 1.0 was successfully finished, and I am rather happy with it.

There is a fair amount of tweaking and adjusting that needs to happen for New Frock 2.0, but this is a functional garment that is comfortable. Also visible here is the velvet sash I made to go with it. Could probably have done with a longer one, but I might have gone mad if I'd had to sew it for a moment longer.

For bonus points, the lacing rings as I was attaching them:

I also made an overdress to go with both this version and the silk one, once it's done. The overdress is reproduction 16th-century fabric, so a little later than the style of the dress, but I love it utterly.

The pattern on the fabric was perfectly centred, so I was able to use it as a cutting guideline. Consequently, it lines up really well.

Here's a picture of the combo, taken at Raglan by my friend Ian Walden. (Photo used with permission.) I still need sleeves, a partlet, and a proper cap, but I'm pretty happy with how it came out!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Suddenly, a necklace!

I went up to the sewing and bead shop this morning to buy supplies. Found black cord that will do nicely for lacing at 35p a metre, which was excellent. I also got the supplies to turn my brooch into a Florentine-style necklace.

I have no experience with making jewelry, nor do I have any intention of taking it up. This piece is intended to do until such time as I have the money to buy the real thing; consequently, I've done very little research into how to assemble it. It just needs to look right.

So. I inserted head pins through the pearl drops. (Plastic pearls, because the shop doesn't sell real pearls that were big enough.)

Then I started wrapping the head pin through the curlies of the brooch. I'd intended to use jump rings, but the ones I got were too small to fit around the bits of the brooch. This would have been easier if I could remember what I did with my needle-nose pliers, but hey, it worked.

The first one was a bugger to get into place because I left the pin on the back of the brooch. The other two were not nearly so fiddly. I used my trusty Warhammer clippers to trim the head pins off after they'd been attached.

I got enough of the cord to use for the necklace too, and I think it looks rather well!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

In honour of a wee small

We spent this weekend visiting Lord and Lady Coventry, two members of our SCA household. The main purpose of the visit was to meet their recently-born sprog, Nemo[1]. He is utterly adorable despite having thrown up on me twice.

I'd made him a hat before he hatched, but I had a partially-worked piece of embroidery I designed back in March when Terry Pratchett passed away. As Nemo's parents are huge Pratchett fans, and as the quotation in question seemed remarkably apt for the start of a new life, I decided to add the relevant details and call it a birth sampler. I think it came out rather well, personally.

Worked over two on 14-ct Aida cloth in some mysterious hemp embroidery floss. I ended up using it as it came from the hank rather than splitting it into strands. It seemed in keeping with the heavy fabric and juvenile style. Anyway, the parents seem to like it. At least, they bought a frame for it within an hour of me presenting them with it...

[1]Not his actual name.