My Russian Embroidery So Far . . .

I’ve been a student at Ubrus ( a Russian school of ecclesiastic and gold embroidery since the beginning of October.  It seems like much longer. I have learned so much!!  It has been since my early days at university since I have studied so hard or worked so much to learn something.  As much as I complain about the work being tedious and difficult, I am exhilarated to learn.

In the next few months, I will be able to teach some of what I have learned.  I can not copy the schools curricula or lessons, since that would be a breach of trust as well as infringing on the ownership of their material, but I can teach it in my own way and share the wonderful world of Russian embroidery.

What I have done so far:

Our first few lessons had to do with stitching gold cord onto fabric.  I learned to make my own cord. My Russian online translator translated  the name of this cord as “waste of time.” It’s one of many possible translations for a word that does not translate (sewing terms do not translate!), but it is the one that has stuck at this house.  “Mom’s making some more waste of time,” the kids say exasperatedly.

My first work. It seems simple, but the new concepts and the new way of stitching was the main focus of this lesson.

It is not only stitching that we learn. One teacher focuses on stitching, while the other works with us on our art skills.  Until we can see the harmony of good art, our embroidery will always lack something.  Art is my weak point in all of my endeavors.  In high school, I was asked by the art club not to help them paint the school windows for holidays.  My work was so bad that it took them more effort to correct it than to do it themselves from the get go.

But I do try, and I am willing to learn. Our first few lessons incorporated doodling.  Looks random, but it is meticulously planned out in hopes that it will spark creativity and encourage artistic thinking.

JosieSewell 1.2..jpg

Besides, it’s fun!

As much as I would love to sum up nearly 3 months worth of work in one post, I’ll post more later.

Until then, happy art-making!
Esperanza de Navarra

Being a Student

On top of everything else I have going on in my life, I decided to go back to school.  laugh Crazy, I know.

Here’s the twist. In typical Esperanza fashion, I did not choose a school in America, or even one that teaches in English.  Instead, I found a school in Saint Petersburg Russian that teaches ecclesiastical embroidery using methods that date back 1,000 years.

I’m in my 6th week of classes. These are 6 Russian weeks, which seem to last anywhere from 4 to 15 days.  So far, I love it!  The work is challenging, especially since I do not read or speak Russian, at least not yet.  I’m using the Rosetta Stone software to learn Russian, but I just started.

Even if I were fluent in Russian, sewing terms do not translate!  For example, the name of the twisted gold cord we use for the first few classes translates literally into “waste of time.”


My first application of the first “waste of time” I ever made.  (I did get better after this 😉 )

So far, my favorite assignment has been a 3 dimensional flower.


I told you that I got better!

As you can see, between the week one assignment (making and attaching the “waste of time”) and the week 3 assignment (the 3D flower) there was a heck of a-lot of learning.

Setting aside the excitement of learning new things, what excites me the most is being able to share this experience with my fellow English speakers. As far as I can tell, I’m the first non-Russian (or non-Ukrainian, non-Slovakian, etc) to be in this school.  Thankfully there is another student in my class of 14 students who lives in American, although she is Russian born.

I feel honored to be a student. They only open up their online course roughly once a year and each class has around 12 students.  To be part of this . . . I have no words to describe how blown away I am.

As I muddle along in my learning, I’ll keep you posted!

Esperanza de Navarra

Gulf Wars Champion

When I last wrote, I was gearing up for Gleann Abhann’s Kingdom A&S and finishing up my Skjoldehamn tunic to enter.

As much as I hate procrastination, it seems to love me greatly.  And there is something about not sleeping for an entire week while finishing up a project that shoots the body full of adrenaline.

My project got finished and I was chosen as one of three people to represent our kingdom at Gulf Wars!!


My Linen Version of the Skjoldehamn Tunic


My Display


My Tunic & Display




Skjoldehamn Find Project: Man or Woman???

When we left off, Dr. Gutrom Gjessing of the Tromsø museum had gotten the body in the mail (seriously! you can’t make this stuff up). He then shipped the body to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo for analysis.

Let’s step back for a moment to the original finding of the body.

When a farmer was cutting peat and he accidentally cut off a body’s foot, the body of the Skjoldehamn bog was discovered. By all indications, the body was originally buried where it was found. Meaning that its original resting place was the bog.

In the literature of the Middle Ages, bog burials were associated with criminals and Pagan burials (Holck 110). The truth is that we have no way of knowing why this person was buried in this bog, but we do know that much care was given to the burial of this person. Criminal, Pagan sacrifice, or a love one lost in an attack along the way, this person was treated very respectfully by whomever did the burying.

The body was well bundled in a wool blanket. Under the body was a layer of raw birch rods about 50 cm long and 4-5 cm thick (like a raft of limbs). Between the body and the limbs was a fur reindeer pelt with the fur side up. The blanket was tied on with thin leather straps from the ankle to knee and, above that, a narrow cloth band wrapped the body in the blanket. Over all of that was another layer of bark (Gjessing 28).

The body laid slanting toward the north on its left side. Its knees were slightly drawn up and its right arm was stretched down towards the knees. The farmer who wrote the description believed it was a murder rather than an execution. There was a 3 pronged hole in the skull, and brain matter and blood could be seen through the hole.

The body was still dressed. The person wore a hood, an over-tunic, an under-tunic, a woven belt, pants, 2 sets of ankle wraps, shoes and a blanket.

Back to the 1930’s. Winter passed, as winter does.

In the summer of 1937, Gutorm Gjessing traveled with wife Gertrude so to Skjoldehamn to inspect the place where the body was found. The peat bog where it was buried was an active peat site. Farmers did not stop digging up peat logs simply because a dead guy was found in it. When Gutorm and Gertrude arrived, the entire area of grave had been dug away. Although bog-walls were left neaby, the actual grave spot was gone and possibly burned during the cold winter. Gjessing and his assistants collected parts of the bog that were close to the original grave, but there was nothing left of the original site (Gjessing 29).

Gutorm did his best, but without samples of the actual site, all he had to work with was the body and what the body was found with. He analyzed the clothing: a woolen tunic, a woolen under-tunic, a pair of close fitting wool pants, woolen leg wraps, leather leg ties, a woolen hood and a pair of leather shoes. Gertrude, his wife, helped by sewing mock-ups to use as bases for the textile pieces. When you look at pictures of the Skjoldehamn textiles, the lighter brown fabric is the 1930’s mock-up fabric that Gertrude used.

In 1938, Gutorm published a long article on the Skjoldehamn clothing in Viking, one of Norway’s archaeological journals. “Skjoldehamndrakten, en Senmiddelaldersk Nordnorsk Mannsdrakt” translates into “Skjoldehamn Outfit, a Late Medieval Northern Norwegian Male Costume. Although he did a good job describing it, remeber that he was not a textile archaeologist.

Why would this make a difference? Think of someone you know who can not sew and knows little about fabric. Now imagine them trying to describe how your prom dress was constructed. They are not going to know the terms or techniques. Gutorm was mainly interested in social-archaeology and anthropology. He even left archaeology at one point to study social-anthropology, but that is another story.

Maybe because the outfit was, at the time, not considered Viking-age, which even then was all of the rage in Norway, or maybe the outfit was simply shelved in the museum and then forgotten about, but I can’t find much mention of it again until 1974.

Aagot Noss talks about the Skjoldehamn outfit in his article “Draktfunn Og Drakttradisjon I Det Vestnordiske Området Frå Vikingtid Til Høgmellomalderen” (Clothing Findings And Costume Tradition In The West Nordic region From Viking-age To the High Middle Ages.) in 1974’s Viking magazine. Of course he uses the information from Gjessing’s 1938 article and did not publish any new information.

Not until 1988 do I find evidence that the original find is actually taken out and re-examined. Published in 1988’s Viking magazine, Per Holck wrote “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” (Skjoldehamn Bog Discovery – Sami Male or Norse Female?). Holck was one of the original “Bones,” aka Temperance “Bones” Brennan. He was one of the first experts in the field of forensic anthropology. He is also a widely known police expert witness in forensic science, so much so that he is a lecturer for the FBI in that field.

Holck began as a Norwegian medical doctor, who was a GP (general practitioner) beginning in the 1960’s, but his love of archaeology dates back to when he was in high school and took part in Viking-age excavations in Oslo. He never truly gave up his interest and, even in the beginning of his medical career, would often worked in excavations studying the bones he found. That takes us back to 1988 when Holck takes the Skjoldehamn bones out of storage in the Anatomical Institute in Oslo and reexamines them.

In 1936, when the bones were originally sent to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo, a Professor Schreiners made a fairly thorough inventory of the remains. Most of it was bits and pieces mostly de-calcified and deformed and nothing significant. Other than listing in detail what type of bones he found, Professor Schreiners did not show much interest in examining the bones further. He believed that little information could be gathered from what remained of the Skjoldehamn body.

When Holck reexamines the bones in 1988, he finds that not much has changed. Holck feels that the acids in the Skjoldehamn bog most likely shrunk the bones from their original size. He even describes the skull cap as a wrinkled hat!

Taking into account the shrinkage, he felt that the Skjoldehamn person was of small build and not a large individual. Like “Bones,” he used the attachment points of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to figure out what body type the person would have had.

Not enough of the leg bones remain to determine height, but based on where the muscles attach to the bones, the person was not a large hulk of a figure, probably well toned but not bulky. Remember, of the bones that remained, nothing remained that could point to the sex of this person. There was nearly nothing of the pelvis left.

We can not definitively tell the sex, age or height of the Skjoldehamn person based off of what remains. Holck, using mainly the size of the bones (which had been shrunk) and the size of the attachment points (which the shrinkage may have distorted), theorized that the Skjoldehamn person was either a Norse female or a Sami male. (Holck 113).

Holck, as brilliant as he is, is just guessing. It is an educated guess, no doubt, but still a guess. Remember how many factors we are dealing with to make this guess:

  • only fragments of bones remain
  • these bones are over 1,000 years old
  • the acids and chemicals in the bog have shrunk it
  • the decay from shipping the bones without treating them (from Skjoldehamn to Tromsø museum) rendered some bones to dust
  • no sex-determining bones are left
  • no fragments large enough to determine height
  • not enough left or in good enough shape to determine an age

Even Holck does not seem solid about his guess and admits that there are simply too many variables to know for certain based off of the bones alone.

At this time, our DNA testing was nearly non-existent. Even contemporary crimes were not being solved by DNA evidence.

More next time!

Esperanza de Navarra

Gjessing, Gutorm. “Skjoldehamndrakten, en Senmiddelaldersk Nordnorsk Mannsdrakt.” Viking, Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi. 2 (1938) pp.27-81.

Holck, Per. “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” Viking: Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi 51 (1988): 109-16.

Noss, Aagot. Draktfunn og drakttradisjon i det vestnordiske området frå vikingtid til høgmellomalderen. Viking Ridsskrift for norrøn arkeolgi. 38 (1974) pp.39-65.

Are Pokemon Swarming Your SCA Fighter Practices????

My fellow SCA’dains have been finding many an inquisitive Pokemon trainer at practices and other SCA events. I started thinking. Why not take advantage of this increase in exposure? What can we do to show them who we are and that we would love for them to play with us when not catching Pokemon?

These wonderings, along with my love of mash-ups led me to create an SCA flyer that will attract the attention of anyone playing Pokemon Go!  It’s the standard SCA flyer wording with a twist. Plus it’s made in a format to be folded into a pocket booklet (which was a long way for a pun: Pokemon = pocket monster and thus needed a pocket booklet :).

Esperanza de Navarra Pokemon GO SCA Flyer

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been dying to share this with the world at large.  If I’m having fun with something, I always hope that others will too.  The flyer takes up one complete side, but that leaves the other side for information of your local group.  Even if you don’t add anything about your group, the flyer will point anyone to the main SCA page.

Please print it out as is.  I’ve sought permission from all of the artists to use their work, and nothing disrespects an artist more than using their creation without giving them credit.

You can download it as a pdf as well:

Esperanza de Navarra Pokemon GO SCA Flyer


Baton Rouge Flooding

It’s been 11 years since Katrina hit us. Maybe I bring it up more often than is polite, but it has colored every single decision I make since then. Going through something so large and devastating, that it added nuances to the word devastating, changes you. It also means that when historic flooding happens literally in your back yard, it doesn’t bother you all that much.

Not that I feel that loss and pain are nothing, but my mind goes into work mode and starts listing out what needs to be done. All the while, every time I hear that a friend has lost their home, the mantra plays over and over that at least the people got out. Stuff can be replaced, people can not.

Meanwhile I am asked “What can we do?” If only the answer were simple.

At first, nothing. Right now the water is not completely gone. Many roads are still streams. Some people are still trapped, and boat rescues are trying to reach them.

As the water goes down and people are able to get back home, the list of what we do and do not need gets specific.

First needs:

Rubber boots – yards have become marsh and have snakes

Mosquito repellent: hot + wet + Louisiana = massive mosquito explosion

Cortisone creams to treat mosquito and ant bites.

Razor knives, good quality. To cut wet sheet rock and remove carpet before the entire house mildews.

Carpet knives, good quality. See above.

Garbage bags, big and industrial strength to hold carpet, sheet rock, a ton of damaged items and keep in the smell of week old rotten food.


Isopropyl alcohol, 90%

Spray bottles, the good kind from Lowes and Home Depot that don’t break after 3 squirts. Spraying stuff down with bleach kills the germs. Spraying stuff down with alcohol helps speed the drying.

Rubber gloves, the good ones that don’t rip.

Hand sanitizer

Bottled water – the individual kind that is horrid for the environment. We need stuff we can open, drink and through the bottle away.

These things seem so mundane, but after a day or two, we will not be able to find them in our area. Have you ever driven two hours, on gas and time you did not want to spare, to get a good razor knife?

Gift cards let people get what they really need.

Lowes & Home Depot

Walmart and Target

Chain Restaurants, because sometimes what you most need is to get a hot meal and feel like things are normal for an hour.

What we do NOT need:


After Katrina, church groups bussed truckloads of used clothing into the cities, but they did not logic out that those who did not lose their houses still had their clothing and those who lost their houses had no place to keep the clothing. All of this clothing was abandoned in the parking lots of grocery stores that never reopened. It piled up into huge dump-sized piles. Got wet. Mildewed. And then caused us to have to clean up something that we should not have had to clean up.

The same goes for:


Kitchen stuff

Think if you were living in your car or in a friend’s spare room, what kind of stuff would you look at and say, “I have no clue where to put this.” We don’t need that stuff.

If you have to donate clothing, clean, unused, brand new, still in the package underwear. And new socks! Everyone needs that. Towels too. Not clothing, but useful.

I had little kids when Katrina hit. My baby had his first birthday in the home of the wonderful people who we evacuated to. I had never met these people before Katrina hit. I still love them. My oldest was 15 and thought she lost everything.

Lots of people here have kids too. What do kids want when they have lost everything? Colors and coloring books are not their generation. They need real distractions.

What Kids Need:

Hand held game devices with lots of batteries.

Mp3 players, preloaded with modern music

Tablets – i.e. portable computers that allow them to communicate with friends to make sure that they too are alright. They have people they also want to check on.

Don’t forget the pets. The shelters are loaded and many temporary ones are taking in animals that could not be evacuated.

Pet food: the good stuff. Lots of pets can’t stomach the cheap food.

Blankets and pet beds.

Only a select unlucky few get to go through major natural disasters more than one in their lives. It does change you, but it makes you realize that life goes on and stuff can be replaced. Also that certain things need to be done in a certain order. Share if you think this will help someone.

Josie Esperanza Sewell

Skjoldehamn Find Project: Finding the Body

When we left off, I started to describe the location of the Skjoldehamn site and I promised a story.

One probably very cold day in June 1936 in the town of Skjoldehamn on the island of Andøya on the northern coast of Norway along the Norwegian sea, a man named Rikart Olsen was cutting peat to use as heat in the coming winter. That part of Norway is damn cold and under snow for most of the year. To get through a winter, a-lot of peat needs to be cut and dried.

If you have never seen a peat bog, they are unusual things. The bog gets drained and then the land is systematically cut up with long thin shovels into rectangular cubes. Peat, as I said in my last post, is compacted partly decayed organic matter found in bogs, peatlands, moors or what we in Louisiana call swamps.

Here’s a wiki-commons photo from 1905 of peat being cut and stacked to dry.


Do you see what I mean by systematic? You start cutting and continue cutting along a row. When the row is done, you go back to the beginning and cut one log deeper along the same row. So on and so forth until you have cut several feet deep. Then you start cutting on row two.When you are cutting up a peat bog, you don’t just dig willy nilly.

Back to a day in June in 1936.

Mr. Rikart Olsen was systematically cutting peat logs. A peat spade is a long, thin, flat shovel with a sharp end. Mr. Olsen plunged his shovel into the peat to cut a cube when he suddenly realized that he had cut through someone’s foot. He freaked the heck out! Wouldn’t you??

His freaking out caused a bit of an uproar and everyone stopped digging peat and came to see what Rikart had found. Finally someone called the chief of police to figure out what to do.

Bogs can preserve things really well. In the right circumstances, a bog can nearly mummify a body. Bog water is highly acidic and bogs have very little oxygen. Combine that with Norway’s very cold temperatures and things just don’t rot like they do in warm places. Since a bog can keep a body in good shape for a long time, these people had no clue how old the corpse was or if it was a recent murder.

The chief looked over the remains and decided that the body was old enough that it was not a crime he had to solve. He ordered the farmers to bury the body in a church cemetery.

They did not.

It is suspected that because Skjoldehamn is such a remote community, it was still Pagan at its core even in the 1930’s. Very remote northern European towns did not convert to Christianity early. Even when they did, they never fully left their Pagan practices.

Instead of giving the old corpse a “Christian burial,” a farmer named Hans Liavik re-buried the body in the marsh on his own property. Since digging up peat is systematic, he could not simply rebury it where it was found. In fact, the specific place where the body was found was immediately cut into logs for use.

Hans did have the forethought to contact the nearest museum to see if they were interested in the find.

Remember the year we are in. It is 1936. Remote communities like this one may not have had a telephone. Communication was slow. They wrote letters and the post man neither delivered nor picked up mail every day on this remote island.

Hans sent a message to the Tromsø museum about the find, but the word did not reach Tromsø until fall. Hans did his very best to describe what was found in as much detail as he could, but he was a farmer and not a trained archaeologist.

Professor Gutrom Gjessing, to whom Hans had written, thought that the body was from the 19th century based on Hans’s letter. The oldest he thought it might be was late 18th century. Awesome find that it was, Gutrom felt that is was not awesome enough to travel to Skjoldehamn in winter.

Skjoldehamn is cold and often snowy. Gutrom let Hans know that he would come to the site in spring or summer of the next year (1937) and asked Hans if he would ship the body using the post office. . .

Yes, you read correctly. “Please bundle that body up in a box and ship it to me on that mail boat you guys use.” And that is exactly what Hans did.

The way Hans described it, the body was originally in good condition. For being a farmer, Hans had an eye for details. The body was found slanting toward the north and laying on its left side. Its knees were slightly drawn up and its right arm was stretched down towards the knees.

Hans described a three-pronged skull fracture and said that the he could see the brain mass through the hole and a bright red spot just inside the fracture. At this point, the bones and the skull were preserved and even the brain was present. The organs may have also been there, but Hans did not do an autopsy.

Although bogs preserve bodies well, once they are unearthed, oxygen is introduced. By the time the body had been reburied, re-dug up, wrapped in a box and shipped two ferry rides and many hours by truck (if they didn’t use horse and cart) to the museum, the condition was not good.

Gutrom sent the bones to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo, and in a letter from Dr Gjessing dated Dec 11, 1936 to Professor K. E. Schreiner of the institute, he describes how badly the body had deteriorated:

“Dear Mr. Professor. I’m sending you today the sad remains of a skeleton found in the swamp on Nygård Skjoldehamn, Bjørnskinn, Dverberg pgd., Nordland. The skeleton was found dressed in clothing and buried ~80 cm deep in the bog, covered by its fists and a fur pelt. Of the bones, the skull was in somewhat good shape but has now crumbled virtually to dust. Letter showed however that the body was a medium-sized man ( Gjessing is referring to the description from Hans).

The clothes were tolerably well preserved, and as far as I can tell it is a Norwegian costume from later Middle Ages. He was wearing a “kaprun,” a medieval cap that went far down the shoulders. That the man was wearing stocking implies that it is a Norwegian and not a Lapp costume. The Lapps have never used these.

This find is of very great interest in costume history, it would be of great importance if the remains by themselves could determine whether the man was a Norwegian or Lapp … “

 p111-112: Holek, Per. “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” Viking: Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi 51 (1988): 109-16.

In a letter back to Gjessing, Professor Schreiner said that he could not identify whether it was Lapp or Nordic because the bones were in such bad shape.

I often think about what would have happened if Dr. Gjessing would have immediately gone to Skjoldehamn and brought the body back and preserved it better. How much more would we have learned if we had the brain tissue of a 1,000 person?

I wish I could say today that this would never happen, but I really don’t know.  We all do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. I’m sure that Gutrom wondered the same thing.

More next time!

Esperanza de Navarra