New book

More different than before. As in, this time it’s European! Gothic, to be precise. And I’m kind of loving the process.

Anyway, short story is that Baroness Marie, my one-time apprentice sister, is being elevated to the Order of the Pelican very soon (like, next weekend), and asked me to make a book for her. And since I had NOTHING to do (translation: I do not have a healthy sense of self-preservation) I agreed.

Did I mention I’ve never bound one of these before? I’ve never bound one of these before.

The biggest lesson I learned was that all the extra equipment you think you won’t need is actually stuff you really, really need. Like that sewing frame. And a finishing press. Yeah. However, I, the intrepid and ever-resourceful bookbinder, have made this all work ok.

These books date from the late 13th-15th centuries, and are the successor to the Carolingian-style binding. One of the biggest differences in the two bindings is that these books were bound in the era when paper became something people used to write or print on, and so you get a lot of variety in materials. This is the era of the girdle book. This book is going to be a girdle book.

Because most books before this style were created using parchment text leaves, the covers were made primarily of wood, which was sanded and rounded and carved with channels for the sewing supports, which in turn attached the book block to the cover boards. This is one of the main differences between the books I usually bind and this new one, since the ones I usually bind are pretty exclusively paper-based, and everything is just sort of glued in place.

So the first thing I did was to find a friend with a woodshop, and have him cut and shape the boards for me. Technically, I think this step is supposed to happen after you sew the book, so that you can make sure the holes for the supports are in the right places and deep enough, etc, but we were on a time crunch, so he did these first. He is a genius. Covers!

(Front, showing placement of the sewing supports.)

Back, so you can see the channels for the supports. The holes are much larger than the actual supports, because you drive a peg into them to hold the leather in place.)

And so then I got to the bookblock-making! I read up on this for a good week and a half beforehand, because I knew this was going to be complicated. And I was right. There are at least three ways to do the actual sewing, and more than three times as many different ways to include a parchment endsheet. I used the most simple way, which was a single parchment folio sewn as its own quire into the bookblock. The parchment (pergamentata, actually):

I didn’t have a sewing frame, so i sort of rigged up one with the also rigged-up book press I am borrowing from Master Lorenzo. It kind of worked. Which is to say, not really at all, but I made do.

Also worth mentioning is that those leather bits? Not the alum-tawed sort I needed, but I did not have time to source alum-tawed hides in anything smaller than something costing me at least $100. Not ideal, since you can see exactly how much I used. I laminated a couple of pieces of lining leather together using PVA adhesive, which worked well enough for a first time run.

The paper is not rag laid, but instead is calligrapher’s parchment, which while the wrong texture is pre-sized for use in calligraphy and should hold up to lots of well-wishing writing. Apparently lots of historical binders use this? Who knew? Anyway, it works very well for its intended purpose.

And so then, we have book block! It is lovely.

With finished book block in hand, I set about rounding the spine and trimming the edges. This was the point where I realized the utility of a finishing press, because “making do” with a couple of boards and some c-clamps isn’t the most fun thing ever. However, the work was done:

It terrified me to pound on the spine, but somehow it worked out. I was so scared that I was going to break the sewing thread. I should have remembered that due to my lack of sewing frame, the threads were fairly loose, and not prone to breaking. Duh.

You’ll also see that I had to trim it after I rounded the spine, and then had to round it again. Lesson learned.

So with a nicely trimmed spine (using my “plough” of a very sharp, long utility knife), I set about doing the endbands.

YOU GUYS. These are so much easier than the Islamic chevron endbands IT IS SO NOT EVEN FUNNY. Chevrons: weave a tiny strip of fabric using only a needle and some determination! This: wrap some silk like you do, and even if you screw up it’ll still look good! Seriously. I am not joking.

In progress:

And then the endbands, in their completed state:


And so there you have a book block! Hooray!

Tomorrow’s installment: attachment of the covers and leather. Very exciting!








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It comes around every year, and every year I somehow manage to wait until the very last minute to do things. This year, “things” are a hat, dress, and assorted accessories for a 1940’s-style take on a superhero supervillain costume. In this case, Loki as seen by a dress designer in 1947.

What makes this dress particularly challenging is that I didn’t start with a pattern. Nope, I started with a photo of a dress from a vintage site, and a lot of ambition (which can get you pretty far, as I’ve come to learn).

First, you go to Goodwill and buy the cheapest set of horrid cotton sheets you can find. This way you do not care if you cut them up and waste fabric as you drape.

Next, you take your trusty dressform, which is not actually people sized since it’s a shop window form and not a dressmaker’s dummy, and stick foam to it with pins and masking tape until you get something roughly your shape and size. I say “roughly” because I discovered after I’d patterned and cut everything that Bessie (Dressie) is not actually my size. She is still more petite than I. She gets a cow name so that I don’t feel like one in comparison.

Then you drape, drape, drape. I ended up with something that looks like this:

This looks exactly right! Only in horrible floral cotton sheet fabric.

So then I went to the store, and bought twice as much taffeta as I needed, since I knew that I would actually need that much in the end. I brought the whole shebang, Bessie and all, over to Otterling’s house and spend most of an afternoon and evening making pattern pieces.

And then I took it all home and sewed the real fabric together and discovered that the outfit was approximately an inch too small in all dimensions. Also that I had cut the armscye into the wrong shape. Hooray.

BUT NEVER FEAR. Your intrepid seamstress is resourceful and determined. I drafted new pattern pieces, cut them out, and then sewed a new bodice, which fits nicely. Here it is on Bessie before recutting:

And a closeup of the drape:

The drape is the only part of the top half that I was able to salvage. And I’m not sure it’s salvageable yet. We’ll do some sewing later and see.

I also did some crazy applique on the sleeves that you can’t see, but trust me, it’s awesome.

So I cut new sleeves, did some applique (a lot, actually) and re-pleated the skirt front. It’s all coming together rather nicely.

In process, with the borrowed fox stole and my own shiny necklace:

And that hat? Well, my lovely friend Tori came over on Saturday and shared all her amazing millinery knowledge (and some sewing skill) with me, and we came up with this:

It is the fanciest hat I own.

Although much of the project was frustrating, I feel very accomplished now, because I not only draped my own pattern and made it into a workable garment (thanks in part to fittings from Blogless Lea), but I did many things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do. It seems as though my hours of practice draping saris paid off in an unexpected way with this project, but I’ve also learned many things about patterning and sewing over the years, and hadn’t realized it. That is cool.

I’ve still got the Cigarette Holder of Power left, and a papier-mache log to paint, but have made a significant amount of progress so far. Hooray for that.

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Random kindnesses

If you plan them in advance, are they really random? Does that even matter?

A friend of mine clued me in on a terrific nonprofit (full disclosure: she told me about it last DragonCon, and then I was my usual weird, uninterested self until I was suddenly VERY INTERESTED, for reasons I won’t elaborate on right now) that spends its time, effort, and funds in the pursuit of helping people, or just plain being nice to people. A day where you go out and give flowers/candy/balloons to total strangers. Giving a car to a family that could really use it (and I mean really). Buying a little boy a pair of shoes. Kind words, gestures, and expressions of support.

So this weekend I made sure to think of all the things I could do that were kind. I gave an extra two dollars with my tip at the restaurant where we ate lunch. I shared my celebratory spice cupcakes with the aforementioned friend (much to the chagrin of WH, who has quite the sweet tooth). I went to the grocery store and bought veggie burgers because the lone vegetarian at the cookout we were attending only had hummus and chips as her lunch options. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t even be talking about these things, because it doesn’t really matter to anybody else but the people on the receiving end if I do something nice or not.

But maybe somebody else will be inspired. Who knows? It’s worth a shot.

Anyway, that’s not really the big thing.

A coworker and I had been talking about books, and he recommended The India Cookbook as something I might like (anybody who spends more than a half an hour around me will know that I have a deep, abiding love for all things India). And I replied that I had been coveting the book, but that it wasn’t something I was comfortable splurging on. He said he’d lend it to me, and I was happy to be part of that exchange.

Well, this morning, he came into the office, handed it to me, and said, “It’s yours.” I was somewhat flabbergasted, and I think I might have replied with a, “Wait… what?” And he nodded, and said that he’d cooked all the things he wanted to cook, and that he thought I could make good use of it (which is totally true).

And so I suppose that’s why I’m sharing, because it feels really awesome to be on the receiving end of kindness, because it reminds you of why it’s so great to be on the giving end.

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The softest of owls

I didn’t finish my  book before Kingdom A&S. I had very noble intentions! And I worked very hard! But the book became a book display, and while I got some flack for entering it in the open (hello, personal standards and unfinished documentation), I didn’t do too badly. I won the populace vote and also the children’s vote (which, honestly, is one of the coolest awards I’ve ever gotten). I also got a couple of “This is so cool! I want to bind books!” That makes it all worth it. I didn’t get my own photos of the display, but I did get these photos from a friend on Facebook:

It’s the most extensive A&S entry I’ve ever done, and will definitely be an actual judged entry next time. I really enjoyed sharing all the parts of the process with other people, and the extra time I’m taking will allow me to experiment with shell gold, thus making this even more authentic than the last book (the black and gold one in the display).

And what’s more, I’m doing one-on-one classes with Myra, who is an excellent student. I can’t wait to teach her the tooling part. That’s my favorite.

Then there was talking and shadow judging and some Royal attending (which I think I managed to botch in a pretty spectacular manner, but lessons learned, boy howdy), and then I got called up for winning the A&S Open, and then His Majesty called up the Order of the Velvet Owl, and I was quite totally shocked (both His Majesty and Her Highness commented on the state of my face due to said shock), and then there was a lot of hugging, and I wished that I hadn’t worn my jingly anklets in court, for lo, they are loud.

I was in shock for another couple of days, which wore off and was replaced by bubbly joy.

I have an OVO.

Heck, yes.

I received this little beaded pouch, which contained a surprise medallion on a kumihimo cord (I suspect Mistress Margala in the medallion department):

A close-up of the pendant:

And Master Lorenzo and Mistress Adela, who are spectacular human beings, made this scroll for me:

So cool! They included a little special detail:

That’s me, holding a book press, on the back of the Meridian horse, riding away from a sleeping Middle Kingdom dragon. So incredibly cool.

And this also means I can judge A&S entries now, which is equally cool.

Thanks, Meridies. I’ve lived in a few kingdoms now, and I can confidently say that you feel the most like home.

(And since I was curious, I looked up “velvet owl” to see if there was such a bird, and there is not, although searching brings up Birds of Afghanistan and the awards listing on the Meridian website. Appropriate.)

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Bad at estimating

I am terrible at estimating the time it takes to do things.

Last time I bound a complex book, it took me a full day to do the tooling. And then another to do the gilding. So when I set out to make a book for Kingdom A&S this year, I spent two weeks on the binding (which is the usual time I take), and budgeted a single weekend for the cover.

Oh, yeah, and it’s important to mention that there were two parties in that same weekend, as well as a trip to the garden store for some discount pepper plants.

The book’s binding is really nice, actually. Once I fixed this, that is:

That’s a failed attempt at the chevron endband, before I remembered that I need to space my warp threads out more. Which I did (sadly, those photos are on my other hard drive).

Saturday I sat down to do the binding part, but then realized that I had forgotten to make pasteboard, which is what I had planned to do for this one, rather than using the thick, clunky commercial chipboard. I also made my own wheat paste. This means two days for the binding.

Sunday I read through my sources again, and discovered that all the extant examples I’m looking at are at least 1/3 again as large as the bookblock I was working with. Undeterred, I found one example that was the right size, minus the complex outer fillet that I didn’t want to mess with anyhow. My method for transferring these designs involves bringing a scan into illustrator, tracing it in vector, and then taping a piece of tracing paper over my monitor and tracing the design again in pen. I know this sounds really insane and convoluted and like more work than it’s worth, but regular paper is too thick to use as a transfer medium, since when you press down on it with a stylus it tends to press outward more than you’d like, and the lines are terribly difficult to find. So you see? The tracing paper method, while bizarre, is actually not too bad, especially considering that you can get the image exactly the right size, and you don’t have to use extra paper.

I spent the time on Saturday before the evening’s festivities (you will be missed, Arnora!) watching all the episodes of Supernatural ever (Dean, I think I love you) and tracing the design three times. THREE TIMES. For those keeping count, this leaves one day plus evenings to crank out the leather tooling. I thought, “I’ll just go home and work on this after the party. If I stay up really late, surely I’ll get this done, right?” I am such an idiot.

At 4a.m., I called it quits. I had transferred the design and gotten what is now the outer border roughly tooled in. For some bizarre reason I had decided that transferring the design via little pinpricks through the paper and into the leather was the best idea ever, until I realize it took forever, and that my previous stylus-pressing method was actually quite serviceable.

Still undeterred, I woke up the next morning and dove back in, tooling the deep outlines on the inner design, and the beginning on the crosshatching and dot pattern in the border. I ate lunch, I watched more Supernatural (no, I take that back, Dean. I definitely love you). I got halfway through the detailing on the border.

I called it quits.

At this point, I had spent over 16 hours on the tooling, and had finished approximately 1/4 of the work needed to make a complete book. And there is still the gilding to be done. And the affixing to the block.

Most of the time I’m bad at knowing my limits. I push myself too far and quit far too late. This time, though, while dozing in the car on the way to B’s Memorial Day barbecue, smelling the pie WH cooked using the peaches we bought during the half hour I ventured from the house on Sunday while it was still light out, I made the wise decision to call it quits on pushing myself to get finished by Friday afternoon. 

(Not to be one to give up completely, I will be using the unfinished cover as part of a non-competitive display entry on the process of Islamic bookbinding, so that it may be at the very least quite educational.)

It’s looking good. I know that with this extra time and patience, it will be lovely:

I’ll be sure to share more photos as it progresses.

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Dye all the things!

Last weekend was a total blur. Actually, the whole week was kind of like that. A big project popped up at work, and a friend decided that it was high time to tie the knot, and then there was the matter of the dye workshop I’d been planning to do with Mistress Dominica and other SCA folks.

So, yeah. Kinda busy.

The dye workshop was for all kinds of dyes – indigo, osage orange, turmeric, madder, cochineal, and a failed attempt at dandelion root purple (keep trying, B, you’ll get it!). I dabbled with indigo, turmeric and a little of the cochineal.

My focus, though, was the madder. As with all the things I research in the SCA, my interest in dyes centers on India and more specifically block-printed textiles. Many of them are red and blue, the red applied as a madder stamp and the blue an indigo dyed with the use of a wax resist. I will eventually do the second thing, but it’s not a process I’m familiar with.

So I thought, hey, madder, that’s like things I know how to do already. I know printing! I know fabric dye! This should be simple, right?

Oh, yeah. Did I realize that madder is one of the most difficult reds? You can get a great pink, or a lovely beige, or a peachy orange, but red? Red is something that medieval europeans paid a lot of money to import before they learned the process. Which, I’d like to point out, is a multi-day, multi-step process involving a lot of very delicate temperature regulation and many different fabric treatments before you even get to the dye portion.

Actually, on the other hand, I knew this and it made it not so frustrating when I tried to stamp the fabric with a mordant (actually, Dominica did this) and the fabric did not change colors at all. This continues to be a puzzle to solve (according to multiple sources, this is something that was done in period). We stamped with a little bit of madder paste mixed into some water, and that seemed to work better, but it was very pale. Clearly there’s something else I need to do with this, but I don’t know what yet.

I did two things with the madder I had:

1. Used ~2 lbs of loose root pieces, steeped in two gallons of water for three steepings. Steep 1 yielded a brownish sort of tan. Nothing terribly exciting, but not plain fabric. Steep 2 yielded a peachy pink, which was one of the shades Dominica and Ophelia had gotten in their previous experiments. I tried a third cold steep, which is still sitting in its bucket. It didn’t make any deeper red than the second steep, but that was only after two hours in the vat. I ran the wet pieces through a blender to break them up a bit, and then put half back in the bucket with fresh water (that’s the vat that’s still soaking) and half into a big pot to heat slowly. I used the directions in the Gryphon Dyeworks booklet, which said to head the alkanet pot to 150-175 degrees for 60-90 minutes, which involved turning on the stove, and then turning it off again, on and off for the whole 90 minutes. After it was done cooking, I poured the contents into a bucket to cool, and immersed sample fibers in the bucket.

2. Water and pre-prepared madder powder, which is basically the same as what I did, except that the cooking and straining and grinding steps have all been done in advance. I put the water and madder into a quart-sized baletop jar, and put several samples into the liquid.

While the madder was doing its soupy cooking, I triple-mordanted a piece of cotton, and single-alum-mordanted another piece of cotton and a piece of silk. For the fancy multiple mordant process, I did one bath in alum and soda ash, then one in tannin (in the form of very, very stiffly brewed tea), and another in the soda ash. After it dried, I cut strips off to put into my vats to test.

The Grypon book also said to let the fibers soak in the dye bath for 2-3 days to achieve the best red, so I left the buckets/jars sitting in my house until this evening, and then pulled them out. I don’t know how to get a deep red with a stamp, since I’m not sure how you’d let the dye get a good soak with a single application of the dyestuffs. Maybe you let it sit on the fabric and then wash it a few days later? I’ll have to experiment.

I do know this – what I did with the madder root pieces did not give me the desired result, except partially with wool.

The big dye pot:

Yep. That’s a Home Depot bucket. They come with sealing lids! Kinda perfect, as long as you don’t put something too terribly corrosive inside.

Here’s the cotton I heavily mordanted:

You can see a tiny spot in the middle where the madder bits got stuck to the fabric while it was cooking, and left a very deep red. The rest is a sort of brownish orange. Not bad, but not what I was hoping for.

This piece of cotton, although only mordanted in alum, strangely took a deeper red color than the very mordanted sample:

I don’t know if it was because the wool held more of the mordant bath than the single piece of cotton, but the cotton wrap is actually pretty darned red. The wool was a brown that B had brought along, and took the dye nicely, resulting in a rich brick red.

The white wool also took dye well, but came out more orange than red:

As did these uncarded locks:

You can see the single-mordanted cotton sample in the bottom right corner. It’s a nice pale shade of red-orange, sort of a pale coral. Not bad, but still, not what I was hoping for.

The linen was a little better:

A deeper red, but not a terribly even color. Still, not totally disappointing.

The silk came out beautifully:

As with the others, much browner than I’d hoped, but that could be because I wasn’t getting a good temperature reading, and the dye bath might have gotten too hot; overheating saddens the color (makes it more brown).

Here’s the little jar with the paste:

The jar with the paste was much more successful. I didn’t try the wool, but I did try silk and cotton. As with the bath I made myself, the silk was a smashing success:

I mean, look at that red! Holy crap! It is ridiculous! I am flabbergasted. Clearly I’m on the right track.

The only-alum mordanted cotton didn’t do too badly, either:

It’s a little pinker than red, but it’s still pretty brilliant.

The win was the triple-mordanted cotton. The color was uneven because the jar was so small, but the richness of the color is pretty amazing:

(Sorry for the toilet shot; it was the most convenient place to shoot photos.)

All of these were taken after I rinsed out the excess dye and soaked the fibers in a vinegar and salt bath.

Now the big challenge is to figure out how I can get the same richness of color with a stamp. The trick to a deep, rich color seems to be the extended soaking period, although I’m tempted to take the dye liquid from the successful jar test and print with it, to see if maybe that gives me similar results.

At the very least, I learned a lot, and got a bunch of fancy dyed fabrics to dry in my guest shower:

Plus this crazy bit of indigo-dyed cotton:

(and I have about two pounds of alkanet, plus enough kamala to dye everything in the world yellow, so there will be more of these experiment sessions in my future.)

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Oh, hi.

Do you know what this is?


Yeah, that’s a sock. That I knit. In two weeks.

Let’s back up a hair. This is the first sock I’ve knit in almost a  year.

I got a little slap-happy with the sock knitting last year, around MD Sheep & Wool time (which, sadly, did not happen this year due to various different things). I knit a pair of Monkey Socks in a little under three days, which, while an amazing feat of persistence, is not something I’d recommend doing. The result of that crazy knitting adventure was a serious case of nerve something or tendon somethingorother in my left arm. It basically meant that knitting more than two rows of anything made my little and ring fingers all tingly, and gave me some interesting new pains in my wrist.

I’m an artist. It’s what I do for a living. So, like any paranoid person whose livelihood depends on the use of her dominant hand, I gave the knitting a rest for a while (actually, I was not smart, because I tried knitting off and on, which accounts for the year it took to recover).

A couple of weeks ago was Stitches South, a regional knitter’s convention and fiber bazaar. The CG persuaded me that the most interesting thing I could do on a Saturday was hang out with her and buy yarn (and darned if she wasn’t right), and I took my sad, neglected little Wollmeise Sock along with me, thinking that maybe I’d get a little knitting done. Maybe.

I bought some yarn, despite my logical brain going, “you have lots of yarn you don’t use, so what’s with the new stash?” (My husband and my logical brain share many of the same opinions, by the way.) Here is what came of that trip:

(Oh, Dragonfly Yarns. You are such an irresistible temptation.)

Plus some more stuff in even more screamingly bright colors, plus a new basket to put it all in, which, ironically, was the only thing I had planned on buying. We see how well that worked out.

I had started the Wollmeise sock (knit with Creatively Dyed Yarns‘ Calypso sock, ironically enough) shortly after the Monkey socks, as I had purchased the new yarn and couldn’t wait to make something with it. It was beautiful. The sock pattern was fun and fast. And my wrists really hurt.

So I stuffed the sock into a project bag and toted it around with me for months, expecting to work on it and not being able to do anything at all. In the meantime, I spun some wool, I bound a book, I sewed three full sets of garb, I learned how to dye fabrics using roots and bark and flowers.

Somewhere along the line, all of the needles came out of the knitting and the sock unraveled a little. I misplaced the needles I had originally been using, and bought some new ones. I attempted (halfheartedly) to reposition the work onto the new needles.

Then, right before Stitches, I went to a knitting group that Jennie had been telling me about (she was there, too), and over the course of a couple of hours, not only fixed the work, but also knit several inches. By the time the evening of Stitches had passed, I had another few inches. And then last weekend, I kitchenered the toe of the first sock.

I now have two inches of work on the second done. I can do this. (And my wrist doesn’t hurt yet! Bonus!)

This doesn’t necessarily mean more complicated projects. But it does mean that I’m back knitting again, and that’s a great feeling.

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There’s a tradition forming between the ChickenGoddess and myself, in which we spend Easter with each other and our husbands, doing something or other and overeating delicious food (isn’t that what you do on holidays anyway?). Generally the “something or other” involves knitting and Bollywood, but I had emailed her a photo of a Dalek pysanky egg, and we got excited about making really groovy things.

For those folks not in the know, pysanky eggs are traditional Ukranian Easter eggs, decorated using a wax-resist technique and brilliant colors. I think they’re supposed to be whole eggs, and you let the insides dry out over time, but in the south of the US, that’s a bad idea. So we used pre-blown eggs (I got a big ‘ol goose egg, because this was my first time ever making pysanky). The CG, who is an old hand at this, used a teeny chicken egg, and of course made it amazing. Apparently if you’re a young girl, you give your best pysanky to the boy you fancy. I am not a young girl, and I should hope my husband knows I fancy him, and this is far from my best pysanky, so I kept it.

Anyway. I chose a geometric blue design from a book of pysanky designs. I thought it would be pretty easy for a first-timer.

You start out by drawing your design onto the egg with pencil, and then once you’ve got a guide, you lay down wax for everything on the egg that will be white. Here’s the first layer of wax on mine:

Then you dip the egg into the first color. The trick is to dye the colors from lightest to darkest, so that they all show in their most vibrant, pure state. For example, you wouldn’t dye a yellow over a dark blue, because you would not get any yellow at all. I started with a cerulean color (light blue):

Then you lay wax down over the parts you want to stay that color, and dye another layer. The next layer of mine was actually a rinse; I put wax down and then ran it under the tap for a second or two to wash off a little dye. Then I covered some of the lighter color with wax, and dyed the egg with a deep blue:

I think there was supposed to be another cover/rinse after the dark blue, but I didn’t want to do that. Of course I had to get all creative with it.

Then you go through the harrowing process of holding the egg to a flame to melt the wax, so you can rub it off. This has the added benefit of removing pencil lines and sealing the dye onto the surface of the egg, which is groovy.

While I was waiting for the dye to dry, I found at least 15 other eggs I wanted to do. I sense another hobby coming on (yikes).

The next day we made a trip to Patel Brothers, our favorite Indian grocer, and on a whim I picked up these amazing cookies:

They’re wonderful. The outside is a flaky, buttery pastry, and the filling is a rich date paste. It’s like what fig newtons should be, or what they would be if they were buttery and flaky and full of dates. In other words, not fig newtons at all.

There’s another book project in the works, and I’ll keep folks posted on its progress. I’m very excited to work on it!

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Dye all the things!

(All the thanks ever to THL Jerusha for taking the photos in this post; I am most often taking the photos, and therefore I don’t appear in many, so I am immensely grateful to friends who are shutterbugs.)

I now have proof that I dyed myself colors! Really really! Mostly from the indigo workshop, because indigo is so very cool. Smelly, but cool (did I mention that one of the main ingredients in the dye bath is urea?).

We did a bath in a tub sort of accidentally; THL Willoc set the mother starter jar in a tub of water to warm, and as happens with wood fires, the tub was unevenly hot. She pulled the jar out when it reached temperature, but the bottom did not come with it. And so we had our vat, there in the tub. Oops. But it still worked.

Pulling lovely blue fiber out of the bath:

Here’s a better image of the range of shades we got (the green that I’m holding in my hand turned blue very soon after; the color change is the groovy thing about indigo):

(I now realize how weird it is for someone in 16th century Gujarati gopi garb to be hanging out with ladies in 6-9th century Saxon garb, but whatever. Hooray, Anachronism!)

I was worried about overdying my sari, so I had a really wicked apron that came out, gifted to me by Baron Hajji on the occasion of our first joint Halloween party:

Serafina stirs a yellow dye pot of some sort. Safflower? Sage? It’s probably sage.

The skulls matched my garb so well.

As happens, the indigo bath lost its potency briefly, and had to be revived. We tested by dipping little bits of undyed wool into the liquid and seeing how dark the wool became, and how quickly. Light color isn’t necessarily bad, as long as it isn’t blue right away; indigo only fixes in the presence of oxygen, and blue indicates that it has already been oxygenated. I think this particular test wasn’t going so well (but W got it started again anyway):

And then I took my little bunch of peacock feathers and voted on A&S Open entries. I think this was just after I put a feather on an amazing Viking tunic, all hand-woven and hand-sewed (which was technically part of the Clan Darkwood competition, but it was still lovely):

Posted in crafts, medieval, sca | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back from Gulf Wars

The past two weeks have been all Gulf Wars, all the time. Between prep and travel and going there, I’ve been doing not much else. So now that I’m back I can take a breather and slow down a bit.

ANYWAY. Gulf Wars was an utter blast, and I am so happy I went for the whole week. I think that initially I had planned on doing many different kinds of things, but in the end, I ended up learning to dye fiber. I also learned a Polish knitting technique, some new Hindi techniques, and did a lot of hanging out with people I hardly ever get to hang out with (and some I hang out with all the time).

I borrowed a little square tent from my apprentice brother, and it was swell. Thanks to the suggestion of Sebastianos (thanks to him a million times) about making a boat out of the tarp under my tent, my things stayed dry throughout the rainstorm on Sunday evening (or was it Monday?). There was a brief moment of panic at about 1am, when the lightning started up and I realized that I had a tall aluminum pole holding up the center of my tent, but honestly there wasn’t much I could do about it at the time, so I went back to sleep. I learned later that Mistress Rosemounde had been struck by lightning in a very similar situation, and was glad that I found that out after the fact. I like sleeping.

My cute little tent, with its bells and lanterns:

I was lent the plastic rug (yay for less grass inside the tent) and the Baronial banner. I liked the small tent, but in the future, when I buy one for myself, I think I’ll be more inclined to a rectangular tent. I like not having everything right inside the door. We’re still researching it. We found this amazing red picture-perfect Mughal tent that we’re salivating over, but it will probably take us a good while before we decide for sure.

The camp was part of the Southern Consortium’s land, made up of much of the southern Georgia groups, and this time including the Barony. It also usually contains House Silver Oak, which is my apprentice brother’s group of folks. At any rate, it was a snazzy, snazzy camp:

(Obviously not the entire thing, but you get a good idea of how awesome it all was. I love period pavilions.)

Even though I had the best intentions to learn gilding and calligraphy and weaving and many other things, I ended up at the wet textiles area, learning to dye fabric. Day one was mordants (things you treat the fiber with either before or after dyeing that improve the colorfastness and can change the color of the dyes). Day 2 was reds, and to my utter amazement I worked with another person to redact a 6th-century recipe for alkanet purple from an alchemist’s manuscript (Leyden Papyrus X). Here’s what alkanet looks like before you do stuff to it:

It’s the woody coating on a large, bulbous root. It smells terrible when you get it wet, and stains your hands pretty well. Others were working with madder root and cochineal, which both yield some pretty brilliant colors. Ours was a sort of purpley burgundy.

To start, we used rubbing alcohol to pull the dye from the plant matter. We put it in a regular canning jar. You can see how potent the stuff got:

I put a little fiber in it and the unmordanted piece was this deep blood red. The iron mordanted sample was almost black! My cuticles were also deep red for most of the day, prompting people to ask me if I was bleeding. Thankfully that wore off a few days later.

Then we took the alkanet and put it into a saltwater and tartaric acid bath, which gave us a lighter purple, but if left for a few days deepened to a lovely shade. One of the dyers dyed her stuff with a range from yellow to deep blue:

The big pickle jar on the end of the row contains the alkanet mixture. Sadly, my alkanet sample vanished, but I did take photos of the other dyers’ results. The far left is alkanet, the peach is the last of the madder, the yellow is what we were calling “disappointing safflower” (the safflowers must be washed clean of the yellow they produce before they can make red, and while the water was very yellow, the fibers didn’t take much of it), and the blues are 1, 2 and 3 dips into the indigo vat. I also dyed a choli with marigold and indigo, and got it to go through a range of colors from acid green to a sort of greeny-blue, which is where it is now. I need to wash it; the indigo requires a quantity of urea, and the choli really stinks.

I think I’ll be doing more experimentation with the alkanet. I certainly have the dye bug. Now I guess it’s time to email Mistress Dominica and set up our dye weekend!

I also entered my Egyptian book into the A&S Champion’s Battle. The setup was mostly the same as before, except that I had more table space and could show all the examples this time. The comment was made in judging that I should probably organize my display a little better (put examples on a standup thing). This is a good bit of feedback, and one I hadn’t considered; there was a different emphasis put on the display portion of the entry than what I’m used to in Meridies.

I did get incredibly useful feedback from the judges, primarily to the tune of “you have a lot of stuff you can work on, but you seem to know what that is,” and then had an hour-long conversation with Dame Dredda, one of the judges, on how I can improve my process in the future. She gave me some good tips on tooling and gilding techniques, and I can’t wait to get started. Luckily, Pergamena had a booth in Merchant’s Row, and I bought two hides on the spot, so I can get started soon! With the alkanet and the new Mughal coat I’m working on, that makes three entries into Kingdom A&S, and therefore a qualifying set for A&S Champion. Wish me luck!

The next day I had the pleasure of talking not only to Dame Dredda, but to the lovely binder of this book:

She’s from Ethelmarc, the Barony of Septentria. The book is the history of the Barony as told by a baronial bard. She laid out the text after a period document, then bound it into a volume. It is incredibly cool. She’s also doing research on wheat paste preservation methods. I am incredibly happy to have met her.

She even bound her documentation!

I need to step up my game.

And there was also this, which was the most exquisite reversible blackwork I think I’ve ever seen:

The front:


I did watch a little fighting:

Went to the Meridian Social with Their Excellencies South Downs and Master Ximon (depicted here as Captain Meridies):

And spent the entirety of the Known World Party gabbing with new friends from Trimeris while skewering all the chicken ever. And it was worth it. That chicken lasted until roughly 15 minutes before the party was over.

The rest of the time was spent hanging out with old friends, new friends, and my campmates. I now know two additional Indian-personae’d folk (Lord Maraha and Kalika), got to know Mistress Aileghean and Baron Dougal, and ate some damned fine barbecue on Saturday night.

On the way home, we were greeted with this headline (which accompanied an article on the fencers of the War):

Got stuck in this:

And appealed to Ganesh to move the cars:

Which he did. We started moving, and I instructed Adela to eat the treats so they wouldn’t fall on the floor. As soon as she did, the traffic stopped again. I quickly piled a few pieces of papaya on the dashboard, and we had smooth sailing all the way until I bottomed out the van on a concrete divider not 10 miles from Adela’s house.

I had intended to leave Ganesh on the dash, but have taken him with me, since he appears  not to like protecting that car so much. I promised them another little murti.

Whew. April is the month of many events, with Fool’s War, Coronation and Dreamstone all back-to-back. I had wanted to go to Iris Faire, but it’s Dreamstone weekend, so that’s not likely. Oh, well.

But I can still dye all the things.

Posted in bookbinding, crafts, General stuff, sca | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments