A New Start

I believe in new starts! Always have.  And I love starting them myself.

It has been a crazy year.

My oldest daughter got married in an SCA / time-traveler wedding, and I sewed most of our side of the wedding party’s outfits. Found out that one of my best friends had been conning myself and a few other of my best friends for years (pretending to be dying of cancer among other, even worse, cons).  Wound up in the hospital in a delusional, painful state with a severe fever and kidney infection.   Discovered that I am not leadership material when I made a mess as president of my homeschool group, and then swallowed my ego and stepped down.  Drove across 1,600 across the country to work at a children’s camp to discover that some bad things were going on that involved the children. Drove back to have one of my main local social groups implode in a nasty ugly way.

So . . . it has bee a crazy, ugly year, but it has been a cluster of crazy years. That may simply be life.

I’m back to my projects and art and things I enjoy. Being back means having to decide whether or not to blog about my projects.

Over a year ago the wind left my blogging sails when a fellow blogger confronted me about using one of her pictures without asking permission or properly documenting where I had found it. I didn’t get defensive or angry. She was right.

In my enthusiasm and joy of sharing what I learn, I didn’t cite my references. It’s a newbie mistake, and one I should have known better than to make. At one point in my life, I was meticulous at referencing my sources. A decade and a half later, I have forgotten the lessons of always giving credit where credit is due.

I do not want to do that again. Honestly, I do not have the time to be such a meticulous note-taker on every picture and piece of information that gives me an idea or inspiration. On what I use in the documentation for my projects, in the hand-outs for my classes and in research papers, I note everything. For fun projects, however, if I take the time, between homeschooling 4 children, being an active part of our local homeschool group (though not as president!), wanting to be active in the SCA again, helping organize and run a Hogwarts’ themed children’s summer camp, and having an active social life and friends outside of all of that, I would have no time left for the projects.

I still will not again fail to give credit where it is deserved. After a great deal of thought, I came to two realistic options. I could stop blogging altogether and stop sharing my projects to anyone other than my close friends. Or I could share only what is mine to share: my own pictures of my work, my own sketches, my own thoughts and ideas. I can refer back to the original works, such as “this tunic was inspired by the guy on the right in folio 37r in the Manesse Codex,” but I won’t include photos that I did not take.

It is what it is. Maybe I will be less of a useful resource, but I’m hoping that by sharing my work, my mistakes and what I learn that someone out there will benefit and go on to make their own works.

Here’s to a new start!

Gulf Wars!!!

Less than a week until Gulf Wars starts. I don’t know whether to be excited or nervous. It’s been 3 years since I’ve been to a GW.  For the first time I am not manically sewing garb for myself and the family, but I can’t figure out if that’s because I have enough or I just don’t want to sew.

I have enough to cover the days that I will be there, and I think all of the kids do as well. I may be sewing an emergency tunic later this week, mostly for M., who has grown out of all of her younger garb and does not yet fit into mine.

Lately, I’m still working on  my blackwork sewing case. Ironically enough I lost the jar of needles I had to go into the case.

I finished my documentation for a 4 panel cotehardie. I still have to write it up, but all of the research is done.  It feels pretty solid.  I had to go back through my files to weed out my notes on any of the Greenland gowns as documentation. But between Queen Margarita’s golden gown, pictures from manuscripts and brass effigies, I think it’s good.

I’m helping hubby learn to sew – by machine, not hand. He’s made 2 under-tunics so far and we’ll work on a gambeson later this week. I’m tickled that he will at least know how to make some of the basic stuff.

Other than sorting through which SCA files I lost and didn’t lose, that’s been it.

Hope to see everyone at Gulf Wars.


Holidays can really suck the life out of you.  They aren’t always bad, but they are time consuming.  And getting sick afterwards seems to be standard for the last few years.  But I’m back!

The only major project I’ve been working on is a tunic for my oldest daughter’s guy. It was a Christmas present that I thought would not take me that long to make. 3 or 4 years ago, I could have whipped it out in an afternoon.  It’s not that my sewing has gotten slower, but that I insist on doing more by hand.  I would die a little inside if I had to machine sew a gusset into a tunic. Then, of course, I couldn’t make it without some embroidery.  As simple as the pattern was, it still took time.  All-in-all, about 35 to 40 hours worth of work went into it.

It’s time to reevaluate the projects I’m in currently and the ones I need to start soon.

  1. Pleatwork apron needs work so that I can re-enter it into A&S.  Since I missed Winter Wonders this weekend, I don’t know when the next Regional A&S will be.
  2. Finish my blackwork needle case.  Working on this little bugger has taught me that really detailed blackwork is a long, long, long term project.  Looks like that Elizabethan coif may be my Kingdom A&S entry for 2014.
  3. Hubby needs a new under-tunic and hosen. Heavy fighting really gives garb a much shorter lifespan. Now that he has chain-mail, its life will be a little less. Any future fighting tunics will be either very simple or all machine sewn.  He looks damn good on the fighting field, but it breaks my heart a little to see my tunic getting beat upon.
  4. Hubby also needs a gambeson.  Partly that’s to give his nice blue tunic a little longer of a life.  It’s good for padding too.
  5. I want a total of three nice everyday use dresses. Dresses that are wash and wear, will hide the dirt and, if it gets a little dinged up, will still look good.  One for cold weather and two for hot weather.   I’m trying really hard not to obsess on them being 100% period.   My red and black corduroy cotte is a good cold weather one. That leaves me making 2 hot weather cottes.
    1. Side laced cotte
    2. 4 paneled cotte
  6. I want a total of 3 court outfits. I have 2: my Flemish and my green and blue cotte. The dress I’m going to make will probably be my A&S entry for Kingdom.   I’m thinking of a 4 paneled cotte that’s complete with the underclothing that goes with it.  Costume review? Maybe. Or maybe static costume.
  7. Tudor peasant outfit for my 14 y.o.
  8. Early period outfit for my 16 y.o.
  9. Make sure all the kids have enough clothes for Gulf Wars.
  10. Work on polishing the hand-outs for a couple of classes I want to teach at GW.

My list is growing every  minute. I better get to work!

Soap Explorations and a Little about Pleats

Smocked Apron

First, I’m still working on my smocked apron. I put away my second mock-up and started on the real thing, mostly because Christmas Revel is NEXT week!  The gathering stitching is going slow, but I’m making tinier pleats and more rows – 12 rows of 3/8″ pleats as opposed to the 8 rows of 1/2″ pleats of the first mock-up.  Hand pleating is very tedious.

I used the yard stick on the cutting board method with dots instead of lines, hoping the blue water-soluble marker will wash out easier. Somehow though, maybe because I was talking with the family instead of fully concentrating on measuring, my dots are not lined up. After I did the pleating stitches on the first row, I realized the other rows of dots are not lined up.

Probably I should have pulled the one row out, water spritzed out all the dots and do it again possibly taping the edge of the fabric to the cutting board with architect’s tape. But no! I thought I would just eye-ball line it up by visually tracing the rows of weft threads from each row down to the next. Oh my!!! That took a while.

Late last night, after my husband and daughter got home from doing an SCA demo at ComicCon, I was just about done with all twelve rows of the pleat stitches, when they caught me with the cloth spread out on the bed, just staring at it. And they knew.

“No you are NOT going to pull all of those threads out and start all over again!!!”  I was still tempted.  The conversation then took a personal turn. I acquiesced to their suggestion just to go with it.

Of course my husband had to get in the last remark of “And don’t you blog about this either!”  Well, I have to win some part of the argument.

Yes, the pleating stitches are nice and nearly all even, which says a-lot considering that each row has about 80 pleats. Times that by 12.

BUT . . . it’s not perfect. I see it being off a warp thread or two here and there, and it just bugs me.  I did say I would go with it as is, so I’m going to do that. The smocking will start today.


Holiday Soap

I’ve been a soap-maker for about 12 years. Not the melt and pour kind, either. The fully gloved and goggled, playing with lye and fats, having a few battle scars and taking a few Silkwood showers (ala Meryl Streep)  kind of soap maker.  That last part was a long time ago.

There are two major methods of making soap from scratch. Cold process and hot process.

Cold process allows for more artistic play and makes a harder bar (hard bars lat longer), but it takes 6 weeks to cure before you can use it. By artistic, I mean this:

IMG_0121 and IMG_0122

I made these a couple of years ago. Pretty, huh?

Hot process soap is not as artistic and not as hard, but you can use it right away.

Which one is more medieval? Hot process – hands down.  I have soap recipes from the Middle Ages:  four 16th century, one 14th century and one 12th century.  To quote one, “Boil by itself until it is cooked down and reduced to thickness”  That’s hot-processed  (or HP) soap making.  One day, I’ll do a how-to on making soap using medieval recipes. Just not today.

I made some yesterday with my youngest daughter. We made 7 lbs: 2 lbs each of lavender and peppermint (all natural), 2 lbs of an artificial scent called “Christmas,” and 1 lb of unscented, for my middle daughter who hates smells.

Coming up in the next couple of weeks, I have a few soap gifting occasions. Although HP soap is ready to use right away, it’s best to let it sit so that the water can evaporate out and make it a harder bar. No one wants  mushy soap.

So I’m wondering if I can speed up that evaporation process by using the oven. Set the temperature to a low 170 degrees, put the soap in while still in the wooded molds, turn the oven off and let it sit overnight. I have not been able to find anyone in my soap making communities who has tried this evaporation method, which may mean that it’s a really bad idea. I’m willing to give it a go anyway.

Results will be posted tomorrow!

Pleated Embroidered (Smocked) Apron: Mock-Up #1

First, I finally got the fabric I’m going to use for the side-laced cotte dyed!!

Freshly Dyed Fabric

I love the color! I was thinking it would be a bit more blue-ish, but I am pleasantly surprised by the results. I put it next to my white muslin for comparison.

I ended up using Dharma’s fiber reactive procion colors:

One part #30A Emerald Green

One part #32A Electric Blue

And 3/4 part #46 Brilliant Blue

On to the Pleated Apron

My first mock-up of the embroidered pleated apron is done!  It’s a style of aprons that popped up around the mid 14th century and lasted until the late 16th century without changing much in style. I found a couple of new pictures demonstrating the over 200 year range of this accoutrement.

Luttrell Psalter
1320 – 1340 England

Detail from The Seamstress
Edward Schoen 1535

What I like, other than the bling quality, is that it makes the simple apron not so simple and allows it to be worn with fancier garb.

Last time I left off, I was having problems simply getting the dots straight. Here’s what I worked out.

That green thing in the upper right is a home-made Bat-a-rang I made for my son’s birthday party 3 years ago. I still find those things everywhere!

I made a perfect rectangle of a piece of cotton muslin by pulling threads. Here’s a quick and dirty tutorial on it: http://www.sewing.org/files/guidelines/4_204_straightening_fabric_grain.pdf

I squared the edges on my large fabric cutting board and used the marks to make a line nearly across the entire apron every half inch.  Half an inch was too big on one of my previous attempts, but with the method I’m trying, it’s perfect.

Keeping the fabric still lined up on the mat, I marked every 1/2″ in the perpendicular direction. The fabric did slip quite a bit, so generally between each row I would re-straighten it on the mat. It doesn’t matter how many rows you make, but it needs to be an even number (we’ll get to that later).

At this point, I have eight long lines going across, and about 70 dashes going up and down.

Somewhere I read a tip that said do all of the gathering stitches at once. So I threaded 8 needles – I used sharp, medium length embroidery needles. I used normal DMC embroidery floss in a light, but not white color. Avoid the urge to use a completely contrasting color, like red. I did that with the cartridge pleats on my partlet, and when I pulled them out, it left red residue in the holes.

The method I used was I ran along the length-way lines. A smidgen before every dash, I pushed the needle through the fabric. Using the same motions used in a running stitch, right after each dash I came back up.

Tie the back ends of the thread together in batches of 2 and 3. It makes it easier to adjust when gathering the fabric.

When you get to the end of your threads, but still have more line to finish . . .

Start pulling the gathers. That’s why you tied the threads off at the other end and why it’s easier to work all 8 rows at once.

When I finished gathering the gathers, I thought that it looked way too small. I knew that I wanted the apron wider than this.

So I set about spreading the folds and trying my hardest to keep the columns straight. Then I laughed and realized that the smocking will loosen the gathers. I re-pulled the threads together, although not as tight as I did at first.

Take a chop-stick, or something like it, and pock into each pocket created by the gathered threads. It is tedious, but when you are done . . .

all of the rows line up nicely, and . . .

the front looks just lovely.

Now for the smocking. It helps if you understand the pattern first before the stitches.

The Pattern

  • You are working with 2 rows at a time. That’s why you made an even number of rows.
  • I labeled the columns to make it easier to understand.
  • Remember: rows go side to side. Columns go up and down, like columns on a building. It’ll get confusing if I don’t make this distinction.
  • Start at the lower LEFT of the whole damn thing. Believe me, it makes a difference. (Yeah, I tried starting on the right – a big mess)
  • At the bottom left corner, Column A and Column B get stitched together. (Stitch explanations come in a minute).
  • Then go up one row, and Column B and Column C get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column C and Column D get stitches together.
  • Go up one row and Column D and Column E get stitched together.
  • Go back down one row and Column E and Column F get stitched together
  • And so on, and so on, until you finish those 2 rows.
  • Here’s a little visual I threw together:

The Stitches

  • Bring your thread up from the bottom on the leftish to middle part of the top of A. In this case, A is not at the end.
  • Bring your needle around the other side of B and push it through both A and B.
  • Do that one more time. Bring the needle around to the other side of B and go through B and A.
  • Now bring the needle around again, but this time slip the needle into B only. You are going to run the needle up B to the row on top of it. BUT you are doing this under the cloth.
  • Now you are going to do to B and C what you just did to A and B.
  • And then come back down C to the first row.
  • Now repeat with C and D. And then with D and E. And so on.

When you get to the end of the row:

  • Connect the last two together and then tie your thread off underneath.
  • Ignore the thread in the middle, it’s just a loose thread that got into the frame.

Starting a New Row

  • Whatever you do, do NOT, I mean do NOT, just move on up to Row 3 and think you’re going to just work your way back to the left.
  • It does NOT work that way. Yeah, I learned that the hard way too.
  • Go back to the beginning of Row 3 all the way on the left.
  • The pattern for Rows 3 & 4 is the same as for Rows 1 & 2
  • Repeat again for Rows 5 & 6, and then 7 & 8.
  • Keep doing it until you finish


All Done, At Least with the Smocking

  • After the first two or three, I grew tired of having to tie off the loose threads in the back. The pleats are still fairly tight, and that made it a little more difficult.
  • Once I was done with the smocking, I took out the gathering stitches.
  • Loosened the pleats.
  • Then I tied down all of the loose threads.
  • Front view

  • Back side

All that was left was to hem it and add the apron ties and waistband.

Do I like it?  Yes, I think it is beautiful.

Can I improve on my techniques? Absolutely! Even looking back through the pictures I saw a couple of things I can do better on next time. All-in-all, smocking can be fun!

Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Gown Part 2: The Construction

It’s been a month since I’ve posted anything about  my 16th century Flemish costume. Where did I leave off? Ah, the dress. On to the construction.

This is a continuation of a series of posts I’m writing on my construction of a 16th century outfit, which would have been worn by a working class woman of Flanders. I wrote about my analysis of the gown in the last post in this series: https://maniacalmedievalist.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/making-the-16th-century-flemish-working-class-womans-gown-part-1-the-documentation/

Most of my construction was based off of Kass McGann’s ideas posted in Reconstructing History: http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-1.html

When it comes to 16th century Dutch dress, there are two main theorists. Kass is one. The other is Drea Leed: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/lowerclass/makeflem.html . It’s not that I disagree with Drea. I felt that Kass’s ideas would result more in the look I wanted to achieve than Drea’s.  The look I want comes mainly from the paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen, two 16th centruy painters who mainly worked out of Antwerp.

If you go to Kass’s part two in her Netherlandish Working Woman’s Outfit ( http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-2.html ), she gives fairly straight forward instructions on creating the bodice part of the gown.

I started out with two squares of my linen. I sewed them together to give the bodice extra strength when lacing.

Using my modern awl, I made the holes for the eyelets. I really do need to get a more period awl.

I laced the square of fabric around the mid-section of my dress dummy.

To prepare for making an armhole, I made a slit from the top of square, where it hit my shoulders, down to about armpit level.

I squared off the hole in order to get to the shoulder seams.

The square I used was way too long. I ended up wasting a good bit of fabric at the top. If I make something like this again, I’ll figure out how to use measurements to get a more accurate piece of fabric.

I sewed up the shoulder seam a bit at a time until it fit fairly snug.

detail from Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Joachim Beuckelaer

The pieces of the skirt are pretty geometric.

At this point, I had not had as much experience making pleats, so I first tried box pleats.

Flight into Egypt, detail
Joachim Beuckelaer

The rear ends of the women in these paintings are awfully large, but I couldn’t justify using a bum-roll. Why would a working class woman wear a bum-roll? My guess is that the look was achieved with pleatings. Box pleats, however, did not work.

So I tried cartridge pleats. I’m not unhappy with the pleats, but I still need to go back an re-attach them. My method of attaching them to the bodice part flattened them out a good bit more than I wanted.

Overall, I’m happy with it. I achieved the look I wanted, minus a few minor errors. I did, however, learn quite a bit.

A Confusing Phrase

I love wordpress! It has a stats page that lets you know things like how many hits, from what countries and what search terms and phrases they used to get there. Normally it’s things like “coif pattern,” “fillet and barbette,” “16th century Flemish dress,” and so on. This morning I found meißen adelheid in my search phrases box.

What does it mean?!? I love bing translator, and normally it loves me. Not today. I dropped my phrase in the box, set it on auto-detect language and got back that it’s Germand and means “Meißen nobility heid.” Huh?

Okay. I’ll try google translate. It gave me melancholy adelheid, which if said aloud sounds like a depressed flibberty-gibbit. Hmmm. That does describe me at times, but I still don’t think that’s right.

I tried some others. Nothing intelligible came back. So, I tried translation sites from Germany. Sure, I can’t read them, but all you have to do is drop the phrase into the box, choose Deutschen – Englische and click whatever button is nearby. They certainly must be able to do a better job translating their own language.

Turns out meißen is Meissen, a city in Germany. Adelheid  is a name – a person’s name.  She, Meißen Adelheid, was Ottokar I of Bohemia’s first wife and Queen way back in the late 12th century. One of the monuments I use to show 12th century headgear comes from Meissen. I’m not sure if it’s Adelheid, but at least the search term now makes sense.

But now, because of this post, I may see it a-lot more often, although the poor person searching for her is not going to find much here.