Wednesday 15 November 2017

Navel-gazing, or, a foray into the depths of imposter syndrome

It's been a whole year since I started seriously planning the Next Big Thing, which eventually became the Raglan Basket Project. Since then, my blog posting has been rather sporadic. It's not that I'm not making things, it's...

Well. It's a bunch of things, which is why I'm indulging in a spot of public introspection about the whole situation.

Problem the First - real life. I'm really busy. And the really busy is about 75% good busy, but it's all high-brain stuff. Sewing doesn't take a great deal of brain. Writing coherently does. So when I get home at the end of the day, writing up the research and taking photos of the stuff I've been doing gets sidelined because frankly, I don't have the energy to do anything but sit on my arse with some hemming.

Problem the Second - deadlines, self-imposed and otherwise. If I need to get a thing done by a certain date, finishing the thing takes priority over writing about the thing. When the thing is planning and cooking for large crowds of people at events, the grocery shopping is more important than writing up my redactions.

Problem the Third - long-term projects are boring. Boring to make, boring to write about. "I cut out all the fabric for a frock. Here is a photo of the pieces. Here is a photo of my hemming. Here is another. Oh look, another photo of hemming, yay." It's not like I'm keeping a private diary of what I'm doing. The blog is public, and I feel obliged to make it at least mildly amusing to the people reading it. (Good job on that with this post, self.)

Problem the Fourth - screwing up in public is horrible. This is a really big one. My sense of self-worth is largely predicated on doing a good job and not screwing up. I don't want to admit to my failures and mistakes, let alone document them on the internet. I know in the abstract that screwing up is an important part of learning. I know that talking through it with other people will result in me becoming a better artisan and a more compassionate teacher. I know that. Really I do. And yet, if I'm not 100% certain that I have done a thing absolutely right, it's almost impossible to bring myself to post about it. WHAT IF I'M WRONG AND EVERYTHING I'VE EVER DONE IS WRONG AND EVERYONE HATES ME BECAUSE I MADE A BAD ASSUMPTION?!?!?!?!?! This is what my brainweasels are screaming at me whenever I try to write a blog post about some research that I'm doing.

Problem the Fifth - people apparently use my blog posts for stuff. Which, yay, but also holy crap pressure not to get it wrong. And pressure to make everything I write not only right but user-friendly.

Problem the Sixth - there's no Ravelry for sewing. Which means there's no purpose-built tool for recording all the details of all the stuff I make. There's no easy way to inventory my stash of fabric and notions and tools. There are no fora of people doing the same things I'm doing, no one-stop-shop of other people who have already done what I'm trying to do. If I want to track down how someone else did a thing, I have to track them down via blogs and word-of-mouth, which leads to:

Problem the Seventh - talking to people is scary. Especially people whose work I admire, or people with whom I've never interacted. Or, you know, talking to pretty much anyone other than my family and people like Weaving Friend who are also my family. And this blogging thing? It's basically standing on a table and saying "HI STRANGE PEOPLE LET ME BARE MY SOUL TO YOU AND ALSO PLEASE TELL ME ALL YOUR KNOWLEDGE".

Problem the Eighth - balancing all the difference projects. I do all the needlework. And I write fiction. And onomastics research. And archery. And various other research. And I'm a gamer. There isn't time in the day to fit in all the things, and yet when I spend time doing something that isn't an SCA project, I feel guilty for wasting my time.

Problem the Ninth - I'm crap therefore why bother? Imposter syndrome at its finest. I don't already magically know everything and therefore none of my work is valid or worthwhile.

Problem the Tenth - reading isn't work, apparently. My brainweasels have decided for whatever reason that in order for something to qualify as work or a Real Project, there has to be a tangible output. Reading, even for research, doesn't count. Neither does critical assessment of sources. ONLY MAKING THINGS IS REAL. (I hate my brainweasels rather a lot, in case that wasn't clear.)

If you've made it to the bottom of this list, well done you!

I suppose the real question is, how do I deal with all of that up there now that it's out in the open? I don't know. Some of it I can solve by "simply" (LOL) committing to less and being more realistic about my time commitments. The rest of it not so much. If anyone has any tips for sharing one's work while dealing with crippling anxiety and imposter syndrome, feel free to drop me a line.

Thursday 22 June 2017

A refreshing lunch for 100

Over the weekend I cooked the lunch for Midsummer Coronation. It was an interesting challenge for a few reasons. First, I've never cooked for more than fifty people before. Second, it was a new site with a tiny kitchen. Tiny as in smaller than my apartment's kitchen, which is cozy for two cooks. Third, despite taking place in Ireland, the weather was predicted to be HOT.

Given all of these challenges, I decided to go with a variation of a lunch menu I've cooked several times before. 

Shredded roast chicken with cucumber and almond sauce
Cold aubergine salad with caraway dressing
Lentil soup 
Yoghurt dip
Flatbread (purchased)

I also planned to make allergen-free alternatives as follows:

Shredded chicken - plain chicken without dressing set aside for the nut allergy sufferers.
Lentil soup - allium-free single portion for the relevant person.
Flatbread - gluten-free to be made on site.

With the exception of the soup and the GF flatbread, everything in this meal can be made the day before and refrigerated, since it's all served cold. I suppose technically you could do that with the soup, too, but we didn't have the facilities to chill that much. 

All the recipes are straight from Annals of the Caliph's Kitchen. (Slight modification with the lentils as per the sneaky vegan feast: they tasted so good as soup that I decided to keep them as soup rather than stewing them.) 

Recipes (keep in mind these are scaled for 100!)


- 12 kg of boneless chicken
- olive oil and salt for roasting
- 200g of ground almonds
- 500ml of white wine vinegar
- around 2 cups of white sugar
- 1 and a half largeish cucumbers
- a scant tablespoon of salt
- a quarter cup of olive oil
- 25g fresh mint
- 25g fresh basil
- 25g fresh thyme 

Put the chicken into roasting tins, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast until done. Cover and allow to cool until you can handle it without burning yourself. Shred the chicken. Once it has cooled to room temperature, put into covered containers and refrigerate.

While the chicken is roasting, make the sauce. Finely mince the fresh herbs and the cucumbers. Mix in a large bowl with the almonds and wine vinegar. Add the sugar in quarter cup increments - you're aiming for that perfect puckery balance between sweet and sour. Add olive oil and salt. Mix well. If you're not serving immediately, cover it.

Take the chilled chicken out of the fridge and stir the sauce through it. The easiest way to do this is with your hands, although be warned that if you have any papercuts the vinegar will find them! Serve garnished with sliced cucumber if you fancy it.


- 20 aubergines
- 500ml of white wine vinegar
- around 2 cups of white sugar
- 200g of ground almonds
- 2 generous teaspoons of ground caraway seeds
- 2 generous teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon galangal (this actually belongs in a different sauce recipe, but it's the same principle and it worked really well)

Slice the tops off the aubergines. Boil them until a fork pierces the skin with little to no resistance. Drain until cool enough to handle. Chop them up. Mop up the puddles of aubergine juice you've made chopping them. Drain until completely cool. Put into covered containers and refrigerate.

While the aubergine is boiling, make the dressing. Mix together all the ingredients apart from the sugar. Add the sugar in increments as per the chicken recipe.

Lentil soup

- 25l of vegetable stock (approximately)
- 5kg of red lentil
- 43g of cumin (i.e. one entire jar)
- 6 large heads of garlic 
- 4 dozen vegetable stock cubes if you don't have homemade stock on hand
- 3 teaspoons of saffron (optional)

Bring the stock to a boil. Mince the garlic. Dump everything into the boiling stock, turn down, and simmer until the lentils dissolve. I made this in three large pots and had a obliging tall person recombine the pots to make sure the seasoning was divided evenly between the containers.

Yoghurt dip

- 10 500g pots of plain Greek yoghurt
- 75g of fresh mint
- 3 large cucumbers

Mince the mint and cucumbers. Tip all the yogurt into an enormous mixing bowl, add the mint and cucumbers. Mix thoroughly. Cover and chill, preferably overnight so the flavours blend nicely.

I had half a cucumber spare, so I sliced it and served it alongside the rest of the food. The head cook had also brought a couple of industrial sized jars of olives, so we put those out as well. It seemed to be well received, and I think everyone was happy not to have a heavy sit-down meal on a day that hot!

Monday 29 May 2017

More problems, more fixes (a shift recipe)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are some minor issues with my underwear. So, I've dealt with that and have made three additional new ones.

The shifts that are the foundation of this outfit are based on a sort-of extant piece from 14th-century Germany. (Sort-of extant in the sense that it was found, photographed, and described before disappearing during the Second World War.) Based on the proportions, it falls to just above the knee. This was what I came up with:

Yardstick for scale

What I had forgotten to take account is that my torso is disproportionately short, so the shoulder straps were too long. The bust support of this garment comes from a belt worn just under the breasts, effectively creating a detached bra band. (Evidence for use of a belt as bust support based on depictions in art of the period, for example this, a section of a fresco from Padua.) In order to corral my assets, I've had to shorten the straps.

(There will be no photos of me in my underwear, I'm afraid. There are limits to what I'm willing to post on the internet!)

Dimensions of pieces (after hemming):

Body panel - top of shoulder to top of kneecap, half of bust
Gores -  triangle height from waist to top of kneecap, width two inches narrower than the body panel (This is an arbitrary measurement based on how much linen I had on hand. Feel free to make wider gores if that's what you fancy.)

The sides are seamed above the gores to the red line. Distance from top of shoulder seam to red line on mine is 9 inches, but you'll to fudge it a bit to figure out what fits your bust. It should be roughly at the line of your bra band.

The neckline is a simple scoop as in the original piece, and is identical front and back. It should be lower and wider than the neckline of whatever you're going to wear over it so that the white linen doesn't show.

To make up:
  1. Adding a hem allowance, cut two rectangles for the body panels.
  2. Adding a hem allowance, cut two gore rectangles as in the diagram above. 
  3. Make gores:
    1. Cut gore rectangles and rotate into two isosceles triangles as in the diagram above.
    2. Use running stitch to seam up the centre of the gores.
    3. Press the gore seams open and fell them.
    4. Hem all the way around the gores. 
    5. Put the gores somewhere that you won't lose them. Very Important!
  4.  Make body panels:
    1. Hem one short edge of each of the body panels.
    2. Stack the body panels together so the hems are facing each other.
    3. Cut out the necklines on both panels at the same time.
    4. Hem the curved edge of both necklines. Make sure you are hemming to the same side as the hems at the bottoms of the panels!
    5. Hem the tops of the shoulder straps.
    6. Sew the shoulder straps together.
    7. Pin up and hem along both long sides. (If you do this after the shoulder straps are sewn together, you'll be able to correct it if the straps aren't quite the same width. You can probably guess how I know that.)
  5. Assemble the shift:
    1. Starting from the bottom edge of the body panel, whipstitch one long side of the first gore to the body panel.
    2. Starting from the top of the side seam (i.e. the red line in the diagram), pin along the side seam and then down along the second long side of the gore. You'll probably need to ease it in a bit, so pin slowly and be prepared to adjust if your fabric is bunching.
    3. Repeat with the second gore.
  6. Reinforce the tops of the side seams (optional):
    1. Cut a small rectangle of scrap linen. 
    2. Fold the edges under.
    3. Lay the patch over the hemmed inside of the top of the side seam so the raw edges are against the hem and the top of the patch is level with the top of the seam. (See diagram below)
    4. Whipstitch all the way around the patch to secure it.
    5. Repeat on the other side seam.
The patch is a technique I've imported from the 16th-century shirts. The top of the side seam is subject to quite a lot of strain, both from regular movement and from the stress put on it by holding in a bosom. The reinforcing patch, while not documented to this period (as far as I know!), is a very easy way to keep from ripping the side seams out.

Thursday 9 March 2017

Interlude - Good News and Bad News

Tonight I am spending a little time on something that isn't SCA clothing. I know, right? But it is a necessary interlude in my textile activities.

Bad news first - I managed to catch my new (commercial) pullover in the zip of my jacket and rip a hole in it.
Two lousy stitches.

Good news - I have something in the stash exactly the right colour to mend it!

More bad news - it's proto-yarn.

Despite appearances, these two objects are the same colour.
More good news - I can fix that! I have the technology!

Ah, my favourite spindle.
I spun up 50cm of a rather fine 2-ply. Didn't bother wet-finishing it because, well, only about 10cm of that is actually going to become part of the pullover, and it's not going to change dramatically enough to make a difference when I wash it.
Finished but not wet-finished. I'm a slacker.

A couple of minutes with a darning needle and I'm done!

Repaired cable is on the left in the middle.

Woven-in ends on the back.
And from a distance.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Boring but necessary

The plan for Raglan is to have a fresh set of body linen every other day. That means five shifts, five pairs of hose, and five veils. I needed a veil for the event last weekend, and since I was cutting out the fabric anyway I figured I might as well just do the lot.

The veils I've made are 100cm by 30 inches before hemming. Why the weird measurement combo? Well, I wanted metre-long veils, and my fabric was 60 inches wide.

I ended up hemming the selvedges as well because the fabric has annoying frilly selvedges. I also embroidered a little glyph on the corner of each veil to mark them as mine - I've lost too many over the years!

I also have plans for the sixth block of fabric created when I cut out the veils, but that's another post.

Friday 24 February 2017

Frock 2.0

Having finished fixing the grey frock, it was high time I moved onto the next project for my Raglan basket. The next item on the list was the second frock, this time in black wool. (My wardrobe is pretty boring, colour-wise. I'm ok with that.)

The tippets are shorter and narrower than those on the grey frock. The sleeves are shorter and tighter. And I used regular gores in the skirt, so there wasn't epic geometry fail this time. It is in all other respects identical to the grey frock.
Photos courtesy of Lady Tamara.

Now with bonus spiffy champion!

I spent an entire weekend in this outfit. It was incredibly helpful to test out how the clothing behaved. Some observations:
  • The entire outfit (overfrock, underfrock, shift, hose, shoes, veil) takes up less than half of my carry-on bag. I could theoretically get the entire wardrobe into a carry-on at some point as long as I didn't need anything else with me. 
  • You can't cook when you're wearing tippets. I had to borrow a tunic in order to go play in the kitchen.
  • I need to shorten the straps on my shift like whoa. They are too long and consequently uncomfortable. 
  • Ditto the neckline on the underfrock. It's too wide.
  • Need to practice pinning the veil properly. It needs to fit closer to the back of my neck so that it doesn't look quite so much like a scarf.
  • The hair works, but makes it surprisingly difficult to hear!
  • The sleeves on the underfrock are exactly right. I really like the way they fit.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

First, fix the problems

I've already made most of a complete outfit for my Basket Project, even though I never posted about it. Sorry about that. We'll talk about the foundation garments another day, but there were four major issues with the outer frock. Conveniently, they're all visible in this photo:
Courtesy of Lord Richard of Salesburie
The first is that I had a fairly spectacular geometry failure when I was putting in the gores. I wanted to use up all my fabric and have plenty of swish, so I made three-panel gores instead of two. As gores are right-angle triangles, this meant that I ended up with panels that were different lengths on both sides. That's why the bottom hem has those funky corners.

Two options here. One, I could piece on more fabric to fill in the gaps. Two, I could trim the bottom edge all the way around to even it up. I decided to trim it, since I had used up every scrap of the fabric when I originally made the frock. End result is a shorter frock, but some of the ladies in the manuscript have shorter overfrocks that reveal the contrast colour underneath.

Inevitably, this fix led to another problem - the underfrock I'm wearing is pieced. Shortening the overfrock as much as I needed to meant that the join became visible, so I had to take that apart and shorten it, too.

Second problem is less visible - the neckline. It's supposed to be almost like a boat neck. What I ended up with was more of a scoop.

It's not a good look. Also, it falls off my shoulders. This is a pretty easy fix - I've just shortened the shoulders to create a neck opening that's a much shallower curve, little more than a slit across the top.

Third problem is those sleeves. They are not supposed to be loose and baggy, but very tightly fitted. Also, they're too long. Easily fixed - take them off, cut them to be fractionally larger than the sleeves of the underfrock  (which I managed to get just right), rehem, reattach.

Incidentally, issues like this are one of the best things about the "hem then assemble" school of garment construction. If I'd seamed the sleeves, I would have had to unpick the felling the whole way around the armscye and down the side seam, undo the hem, fix the sleeves, reseam and then fell the whole thing again. This way I just had to snip one stitch and pull out the single thread. Reassembly just means whipping it back into place and shortening the side seam.

Final problem wasn't so much a construction failure as it was a timetabling failure. All of the frocks in the manuscript that have these short fitted sleeves also have fur-lined tippets. I got as far as sewing the fur onto the backing fabric (largely due to the assistance of my mother!) but never sewed them on.

And the whole fixed outfit, looking rather more respectable!