Monday, 20 January 2014

Because I am crazy.

Periodically I browse the online collections of the Victoria and Albert museum, looking for pre-1600 textiles that could serve as inspiration for SCA projects. A few months ago I found this handkerchief. I love it. It's beautiful and intricate and completely over-the-top. I decided that someday I'd figure out how to do all the millions of complicated things it required and make a replica.

Fast forward to November. A good friend in the SCA wanted to enter Coronet tournament, but didn't have anyone to fight for. (In the SCA, one person fights for his or her chosen consort, and then the two of them rule for a fixed period of time.) He asked me to be his consort, I agreed, and then he sprung on me the fact that I'd need to make him a favour. Two, in fact - one to wear on his belt while fighting and a fancy one for best.

The fighting token was easy. I put my herald's hat on and made twisted cord in his colours and mine. Took about 5 minutes.

The fancy one left me stumped until I remembered that handkerchief. There wasn't time to make a full-scale one, but a smaller one, on heavier linen with no edging? Surely I could manage that, and it would be excellent practice for making the proper one in the future.

The first task was finding resources to learn how to do all the various bits. The curator's description said, "Handkerchief of fine linen with decoration at the four corners : cutwork with needle lace fillings, and whitework embroidery in detached buttonhole and satin stitches; edged with needle lace." The thread is also linen.

So. Whitework, cutwork, and needle lace on linen.

Whitework is just white-on-white embroidery, so I needed to match my thread to the fabric. As it happened, the only appropriate linen I had was a very pale pink. No worries - pink was considered a manly colour in the Middle Ages, and I'm sure my consort will pull off a pink handkerchief nicely. I didn't have any linen embroidery thread, so I went digging in my stash of DMC embroidery cotton. Colour 225 was a nearly-perfect match.

Cutwork and needle lace were the bits I was feeling nervous about. I've never done either before, and the thought of cutting into my embroidery was a bit nauseating. To calm myself, I went off in search of books. These were what I found:


The two books at the top were ones I already had in my library. The bottom right is an out-of-print book that showed up on every single needle lace bibliography I could find, so I snagged it secondhand from Amazon. The last book is a facsimile of a late 16th-century book of needle lace patterns. No instructions, but since I was designing my lace from scratch, I wanted something to give me a sense of what designs would have been worked into the lace.

Here's my initial design: 

Initial design

The circle-and-diamond are based on my consort's heraldry, and are to be worked as needle lace. The fancy bits around the square are to be done in plain old backstitch, which I've decided to make reversible. Wrong sides of handkerchiefs show!

I was initially having trouble deciding on the dimensions, layout, and margins. Then I remembered that I had a fancy decorative handkerchief from my wedding, so I decided to just use those dimensions. I also decided to draw my design out in the actual size to make it easier to get the motifs in the right place.

Once all the decisions were made, it was time to get stitching. I started applying thread to fabric 10 days ago. The first stage was couching down some heavier thread (crochet cotton in this case) with buttonhole stitch. This forms and stabilizes the border of the square where the needle lace is placed.

Couching the cord

Teeny-tiny stitches
Once the couching was done, I added the curly bits on the corners. Incidentally, it's really difficult to photograph pale pink thread on pale pink fabric in London in January.
Front of fabric

Back of fabric
After getting all the corners done, I decided that I actually liked it better without the extra embellishments in the middles of the edges, so I've left them out.
Finished corners
Once the embroidery was done, it was time to start hemming. And hemming meant cutting! Further proof of my insanity is that I decided not to do a plain hem, but an openwork one. That meant withdrawing two threads around the whole piece. I counted 8 threads below the edge of the embroidery, gave the next two threads a little tug with my needle to allow room for the scissors, and then snipped!

Marking threads to be withdrawn

Withdrawing threads

Once I'd recovered from the shock of cutting into my fabric, I set about hemming and putting in mitred corners. This did not go well, frankly. I should have whipstitched the raw edges of the fabric, as it was unravelling faster than I could sew it into place. As a result, I've got nice straight edges, but I didn't do the decorative hemstitching. Also, as you can see from the next photo, my mitred corners were pretty crappy.
Still. I'm happy with the hemming, even if it isn't as fancy as I'd wanted, and I know that I need to practice sewing corners.

I finished the hemming yesterday (so just over a week to do all the couching, embroidery, and hemming), and started the next phase - removing threads for the needle lace! It thankfully occurred to me before I started cutting that I'd need more of a grid of threads than just the centre.
First threads out

Half done

Finished corner!

I finished taking out the threads for one corner this morning. Still to do:

  • Withdraw threads from remaining three corners
  • Figure out how to stabilize the grid of remaining threads
  • Stabilize the grid in all four corners
  • Work the needle lace in all four corners
  • Iron the finished piece
  • Make smart-assed remarks at my consort about how much he'd better adore me after this.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Garb in progress

We're attending an event at the beginning of next month, so I am making some new garb. Well, bits of it are new. I'm making a smokkr, or apron dress. As it happens, the linen dresses from last summer are cut from the pattern of what would be worn underneath it.

Mum and I spent a couple of days over the Christmas holidays measuring and cutting out the pieces for two of these dresses, with the intention that I'd do one and she'd do the other. She very kindly did the long seams connecting the panels on the sewing machine, and now I'm in the middle of all the hand-finishing for the green dress. (Authenticity be damned - on this schedule, there's no time for hand-sewing those long seams.)

My usual method of working is to get the garb wearable as quickly as possible. Thus, I've partially finished the inside seams so that I could complete the hemming.

 I've also made and attached the shoulder straps.

It still needs a lot of work - the rest of the seams need finished, for a start. Weaving Friend is making some trim for the top edge, which I'll then sew in place before the event, and eventually all the seams will be embroidered. For now, though, this gives a sense of how it'll look when finished.
 Also, my awesome red boots. Mum bought them for herself, but they ended up slightly too small. Score for me!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Largish news

In my last post I mentioned that my plans and goals for this year are going to be affected by a big piece of news. First the context, then the news, then the goals.

I'm a fairly active member of the SCA. I attend events regularly, participate in assorted activities, and hold offices at several levels. Last August, while attending an event at Raglan Castle, I had the pleasure of meeting a visiting Laurel from the Kingdom of Lochac. (Lochac is the administrative region that covers Australia and New Zealand.) She and I hit it off, and ended up spending a lot of time together over the months that followed.

Membership in the Order of the Laurel is a pretty big deal in the SCA. It's an award given to artisans and craftspersons who have excelled in their chosen craft(s). Additionally, there is an expectation that they will conduct research and further their own knowledge and that of the Society, as well as teaching those who wish to learn. It's the kind of award that's only granted after years of work, and is one of the three awarded peerages of the SCA. A sort of international lifetime achievement award, if you will. Or possibly a hands-on PhD, but with projects instead of a thesis.

Mistress P. specializes in early clothing. REALLY early clothing. Pre-11th-century early clothing. I'm not particularly interested in the clothing, but I'm very interested in sheep and textile manufacturing. We had a lot to talk about.

One thing led to another, and in October she asked me to consider becoming her apprentice. Usually one is apprenticed to someone working in the same field, and who also lives in the same Kingdom. As it happens, there isn't anyone in this Kingdom who was Laureled for spinning or other sheep-related activities, and since we seem to get along so well, this works. Thanks to the internet we'll be able to be in touch, and since I'm not expecting practical instruction in my craft, it doesn't much matter that we're on opposite sides of the planet.

The reason this affects my goals for the year are that there are expectations that'll I'll be striving to live up to. Because Mistress P. can't attend events here and see what I'm up to, all of it needs to be documented in a way that she can see. And the act of documenting my work will (hopefully) improve it. Certainly it'll create a resource for me to look back over.

So, things I'm planning/commited to this year and beyond:
  • Research and make a belt. This one is a Big Deal. Many apprentices are given coloured belts to indicate their apprenticeship. Mistress P. gets her apprentices to make their own from scratch. 
  • Create a page with details of all the teaching I've done in the Society, with copies of the handouts if there were any.
  • Add a widget with links to the heraldry articles I've written/will write.
  • Research embroidered handkerchiefs with the eventual intention of replicating one that's held in the V&A. Possibly enter the result into an A&S competition.
  • Make and document more garb. Bonus points for using stuff in my stash.
  • Continue working on Large Primary Research Project.
  • Spin lots. Hopefully find a source of line flax and get good at spinning linen thread.
  • Make stuff for Kingdom and/or Principality largesse. And/or award tokens. Donate to appropriate Royals.

Rather a lot of stuff to do. Also, unrelated to the SCA, I need to knit more socks, and quickly. My drawer is looking sadly depleted.


Two whole months between posts is a little excessive, even allowing for secret holiday crafting. And there's rather a lot going on! So, let's start with the unblogged projects that are now finished.

First up, a plain garter stitch scarf I made my sister-in-law.

It used up some of my oldest mohair, significant because it was the very first ball of yarn I ever bought at Loop. I still have 80% of the ball left. Possibly a new Ishbel is in my future.

Then I made some garters for the Yule Ball gift exchange. They've always gone down well in the past, and I saw no reason to mess with a good thing.

Amusingly, these were received by another knitter. She confessed that although she'd previously made several pairs as gifts, she'd never kept a pair for herself. That was rather nice.

My mother's Christmas shawl:

The pattern is Simmer Dim, a very simple shawl with a Shetland construction. The picot edging was worth the effort, even if it did take 6+ hours to bind the wretched thing off. It could do with a more vigorous blocking, but Mum's pins went missing during the holiday upheaval.

The really major completed project is this:

It's the embroidered part of a Christmas tree skirt for my grandmother. Technically it's not finished, but the arrangement was that I'd do the embroidery and my mother would assemble it, so my bit's done. Grammy was pretty excited to see the embroidery on Christmas!

Year in review for 2013:

30 finished projects, comprising:
  • 8 scarves/cowls
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 5 skeins of handspun yarn
  • 1 pair of mittens
  • 2 embroidery projects
  • 2 shawls
  • 3 hats
  • 1 blanket square
  • 1 pair of garters

Goals for 2014 to follow, because they relate to a piece of news that needs a whole post. (No, I'm not pregnant.)