Sunday, May 17, 2015

Silk Banners! Or, this Oda Cannot Draw a Straight Line

Yesterday I spend the afternoon with a couple of SCA friends (my former peer and her husband) working on a new silk banner.  To be strictly correct, it's currently my ONLY silk banner, they were working on replacing/augmenting their current silk banners.  Always nice to have someone who knows what they are doing when you doing something like this for the first time!

The motto translates as Shadows Pass, Light Remains.
A good reminder for me right now, and it reminds me a little
of the Litany Against Fear from Dune
We made large silk pennons which we will probably fly from our pavilions or from poles next to them.   I'm not 100% sure that silk painting in this manner is strictly period, but from what I've been able to fine the style of banner is and the idea of painting fabric to make a banner of some sort is, and this being the SCA no one seems much to care beyond that.  The silk looks lovely fluttering in the breeze and is actually very easy to paint with modern silk painting materials.

There are a number of good websites on how to do these types of banners.  It's a lot of fun and quite easy to do.  The most difficult part is stretching the silk.  We have two styles of frame to start with, one of wood and another of PVC with integrated legs.  Even with the legs, the PVC was much less expensive to construct, easier to build and move around, more adjustable, and easier to store.  The silk was cut to something close to size, attached with rubber bands and large safety pins (though you could also sew it on to the frame the way you attach fabric to an embroidery frame) and you are ready to go!

We also found it helpful to have several yard sticks (and a couple of old leese sticks, we're all weavers so these are plentiful) to support the paper we had drawn our designs on while tracing with the resist and to rest our hands on while painting.  Unfortunately I didn't take in-progress photos but again, there is a lot of good information out there.

Overall I am really happy with how this turned out.  The wool combs from my arms could stand to be a little larger, and there isn't a straight line to be found, but once flying in the wind no one will notice. There are also a couple of small drip spots and bleed overs, but again you can't see them from a distance.  We found that the darker colors covered up the light color drips/bleeds very well, and that once one color dried it created a bit of a dam for the adjacent colors.  Not as good a break as the resist, but it worked pretty well.

I'll be doing wool applique for my next banner project.  I know that both methodology and application are correct for my time period in this case, and it will create a heavier piece suitable for hanging on the wall of my tent or displaying as an actual banner with all the necessary hoists and supports.

Some resources:
Midrelm article on Banners, Standards and Pennons
How to Paint Silk Banners (PDF file, very good instructions!)
Flags and Banners in the SCA (another PDF, great overview of various shapes)
Dharma Trading Co. (for all the supplies!  Great place to get Dynaflow paints, gutta resist, and even silk to make your banner, plus lots of instructions on how to use whatever products you choose.  We used these paints -

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Breast Bag thoughts

Much and more has been written already about the Lengberg Castle "bras."  I'm not going to rehash any of that except to say it seems fairly certain that by at least the 15th century wearing some sort of supportive undergarment *other than* a fitted gown was not unknown.  I've been playing around with making one of these for the better part of a year now and here are some thoughts.  I've set up a pintrest board on period undies and another on modern undies to collect images and helpful links, rather than overburdening this page.

1. It appears that "lifted and separated" was the the ideal boob shape for most of the period I am interested in.  This really cannot be accomplished with a fitted gown*, which gives you more of a mono-boob shape.  Furthermore there is plenty of textual evidence for breast-shaping garments (and surgery!!  WTF??) in the later middle ages which suggests to me that a breast-bag garment is more likely to have been employed than a super tight gown.

2.  There is more than one way to bag a breast.  The "long line bra" option is but one of four breast-bag garments that were found.  It seems to have gotten the most press as it looks the most like a modern bra, but looking at visual sources as well as what is available on the find themselves suggests that many means of lifting and separating were possible.  Just like we have lots of bra styles today, both for fashions sake and to accommodate different anatomy, they did the same thing back then (and why ever not?  People in any given period of time face the same basic challenges and needs).

3. This one is my favorite - modern bras and bra making can teach us a whole heck of a lot about how to actually construct a plausible period breast bag.  Again, the basic facts of anatomy have not changed.  Breasts are what they are and there are some basic rules about constructing supportive and shaping garments that do not change regardless of time period or shape being sought.  This is not to say a corset-is-a-corset or that a bra-is-a-bra, but in either case the garment is being supported at the waist line in the case of a corset or at the underbust line in the case of something bra-like.

Understanding the importance of the bra band and how to get the center point of a bra to tack (that is, sit flush against the rib cage) makes fitting a period style breast bag MUCH easier.  Keeping in mind that my breasts are on the heavy side (another thing I would not have known without a foray into modern bra making), the bust band must 1 - exist and 2 - be snug/tight.  This makes fitting the cups or bags much easier and proper support possible.  It's also what does the lifting.  The separating comes from how the cups/bags are arranged and fit on the body.

Once you figure out the band, you need to take a good hard look at your breasts and figure out where the root of the breast is (towards the center?  under your arm? someplace in between?)  and how much space you are working with at the center front.  The first version of the Lengberg bra I made had way too much space between the cups, which prevented the band from tacking and allowed my breasts to creep out from under the cups.  The current version has less space, but the band is still too loose so I am not taking but I am not falling out the bottom either.  Figuring out where to make adjustments to get better fit is not as obvious (or at least wasn't to me) but there is a certain logic to bra fitting and it's easier to see after playing around with actual bra patterns.   There are fitting instructions for these things after all, why not apply that accumulated knowledge?

4 - Tacking.  As I mentioned above, the idea of tacking is that the center portion of a bra (where the two underwires come together on a modern bar) should lay flat against the sternum.  This happens when the band is snug enough and the cups are sitting on the actual breast rather than starting too far to one side or the other of the breast root.  A properly fit bra that tacks is a marvel and if you have never had this happen I highly encourage you to put down the computer, go find a specialty bra shop, and get fitted.  With soft cup bras, this is not as likely to happen as there is nothing rigid for the band to pull against the body, but you should still not have inches of space between the band and your chest between the cups.  Some things that seem to work to get this to happen on a breast bag type garment are 1 - making sure the band is snug 2 - getting the center height and width right and  3 - making sure you are working with the right shape garment for your particular breasts.  

It's all about understanding your breast shape really.  Just like with outer garments, you've got to work with the body you have.  The first step in a well fit garment will always be understanding the shape of the body that will occupy it.

*assuming you have sufficient breast-mass to need help in this area

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chicken Pie

One of the things I never post about but love to do, especially at events where I have a fire pit, is cook.  Not feast cooking, but camp and hearth cooking.  It's fun and I think gives me that much more of a connection to how tings were done in the past (for example, managing period skirts while standing in a fire pit required a bit of a thinking.  I know why many women died of lung problems are horrible burns).

Working from period recipes is also a lot of fun and gives me another venue for creative outlet.  Some of them are terribly, wonderfully vague.  I think I have read and cooked enough of certain types of dishes at this point to be comfortable "going off book" and yet still producing something within a period aesthetic.   That's my ambition for any craft really but feeling like I can make something right using whatever I have on hand is a nice feeling.

We had a local event a couple of weeks ago at which my household decided to make a nice period lunch.  My contribution was a chicken pie, based on what I had (chicken, bacon and leeks) and several recipes I found at Medieval Cookery.  In true period style, I utterly failed to keep track of measurements but here is a pithy recipe for what I came up with.  It was really tasty, even cold, and rather like a quiche.

Chicken and Leek Pie, more or less 15th century 
Chicken (I used breasts as that's what I had), boned and skinned
Sharp cheddar cheese
Pie crust
Grind the meats together or chop them up very finely.  I used the meat grinder on my kitchen aid because chopping meat grosses me out.  Shred the cheese and finely cut up the leeks.  Mix all this together with a pinch of saffron and a healthy dose of ground cubebs.  Add in eggs to bind it all together and spread in your pie crust.  I used a deep dish, period pie dish for this so there was a high filling-to-crust ratio.  Bake at something close to 375 for about an hour, and serve.  Also good cold.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Perugia Style Turban

Last year at Ymir (a Viking themed SCA event held in North Carolina every February) I displayed my Perugia style towel for the first time.  One of my fellow spinners was so excited about it that she commissioned me to weave her a similar turban for her Italian kit.  What with one thing and another, it took a full year to get the sucker done but I did and was able to deliver it to her at Ymir.

The basic idea was to produce something along the lines of the turban shown in The Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423.  There are a couple of other similar paintings with simpler color work on the cloth but this one looks the most like a typical "Perugia" design to me.  As I found when weaving the original towel, the complex pickup pattern is a bit beyond my looms capabilities, especially when working with 40/2 linen at a fine set, so I opted to create a simplified pattern based on Rose Path twill.

The finished turban is 22 inches wide and about 80 inches long.  I've found that for me and other anatomically large-headed folks this works well for a nice turban wrap.  If you want to do something similar for yourself, I would suggest starting with the circumference of your head as the width and experimenting with the length you will need for the wrap style you want in purchased linen before you commit to a warp width and length.  Linen ain't cheep and everything about warping with fine linen is a huge pain.

Aside from measuring the warp, which was doubly miserable as I warped two projects at once (more on that later, I wove two head wraps on the same warp so make the best use of my time dressing the loom) the weaving was not too bad.  I need a warping mill.  6 1/2 yard lengths on a warping board suck and most of what I want to work on right now are long lengths of cloth for clothing.   I used boiled flax seed dressing, diluted and sprayed on with a spray bottle, and tried to keep the level of humidity around the loom as high as I could.  This helped with getting a clean shed and maintaining even tension, though was difficult as I did the bulk of the weaving in the dead of winter when the highest temperature we had was in the low 20s.  A humidifier might have helped.

I also started out the project with fishing line running along with my floating warp.  This made adding a bit of tension to those threads to keep them from getting lost in the selvages much easier and prevented them from abrading too much and breaking.  I still quite a few extra weights attached to the back of my loom (it looked like a Christmas tree back there) but overall it worked out very nicely.

Angel wings (brackets that hold the lease sticks in place and at a fixed width) were a HUGE help.  It was much easier to find broken ends and I was able to warp by myself with very little trouble.  Not only was I able to maintain the cross in the warp, but it helped to even out tension and spread the warp out properly behind the lease sticks.

The only major problems I still need to work out are some weird tension issues that developed when I got to the second project on the warp.  I started having a lot of breakage and tangling that I didn't run into on the turban.  I suspect I need to wind onto the back beam with help when working with linen.  Some of the problems might have been fixed had I used a warping mill.  I don't have any plans to weave linen in the near future, by the time I get around to it again I will hopefully have a mill.  

The turban came out beautifully in the end and my client was very happy with it.  I was a little sad to see it go, but I know it's gone to a good home and will be worn with pride and love.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Kira's Shawl and some leg wraps

My second Queens Shawl weaving project was to be presented to HRM Kira at Pennsic last year.  The weft was hand spun by members of the spinning guild, and I wove the finished piece in a herringbone variant using Brown Sheep's Nature Spun sport at the warp.

Overall I am very pleased with how the finished shawl turned out.  It could have been a little longer and maybe a touch wider, but that's pretty knit-picky.  There were some interesting variations in the hand spun weft skeins that I tried to spread out through the shawl to create subtle textural stripes.  I think this worked out pretty well, there are no wide runs of any one skein so the finished cloth is fairly consistent and even.  It's also quite soft and warm.  Working with the thicker yarn this time around did produce a heavier shawl but it still has a nice drape.

I love the way the white and purple combined together.  By itself the purple was really bright.  When woven together with the white. it toned down quite a bit, resulting in some nice depth of color and just enough shimmer to stand out when HRM wears it.

I also wove some leg wraps for my early period/iron age kit.  The original plan had been to do this on my warp weighted loom, however I discovered that the alpaca/wool blend I was using as warp was far to stretchy to stand up to this week.  Also the very narrow strips were difficult to stabilize on the loom so I moved the project over to my table loom.

Just for future reference, I do NOT recommend moving warp from one loom to another mid-project.  I got it to work out but it was sloppiest warping job I have ever seen.  I think I set this as something around 36 EPI, maybe a little looser, but I was working with a lace weight warp so it's fairly tight.  The west is Nature Spun fingering, which I love and gives a very nice pack at a surprising rage of sets.

The finished wraps feel amazing!  They are soft, light, warm, and the cloth has a beautiful hand.  It would make a lovely garment.  They took forever to weave, each wrap is 15 feet long, but the end result was worth the effort.  I'm looking forward to doing more cloth in fine wools, it's such a joy to work with and the results are worth the extra effort to warp up all of the threads.

Friday, March 13, 2015

So many changes!

Oz, the newest rescue.  He like to "help"
 with the handsewing.
The last year has been a wild ride, and I'm happy to say it's finally settling down.   I've moved into a new place that is mostly wonderful, I have a new little doggie, and I'm doing ok by myself for the most part.

Somehow in the midst of the chaos that was 2014 I managed to finish some projects, go to Pennsic, and two weeks ago was elevated to the Order of the Laurel at Ymir.  For those not in the SCA, this is a Big Deal.  It's the highest form of recognition an artisan can get in the Society.  I'm still kind of stunned that this happened, but it's slowly settling in and I'm getting really excited about working on my next projects without quite so much worry about documentation, display, and competing with them.  For me, it's a license to go deep into a thing without having to worry about tying it back to whatever my main art is and to explore new things.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Finished Queen's Shawl

Hurray for a finished  project!  I've been running through my list of Things To Do and getting a bit freaked out this week or so (ok, more than a bit freaked out, more like I look at the list and run away and hide) so it's super nice to have a Very Big Thing Indeed crossed off.  And with time to spare even!  I decided to buckle down this weekend and marathon watched Season 3 of Downton Abbey and the Olympics while I got it done.

I think warping the shawl took longer than actually weaving.  The weave is the same diamond twill used for the Preugia towel, set at 16 EPI.  There are a total of 524 warp ends.  This seemed like a paltry number of warps after the 1200+ I had to deal with for the linen towel, but still it took more than half the season of DA to thread them all.  Once that was done the weaving went very smoothly.  It was a lot of fun to see how the colors in the hand spun changed, and how the different skeins of hand spun varied since each spinner dealt with the color variation a little bit differently.  I am mostly pleased with my selvages, there are some places that are better than others but I think I have an idea of how to improve that next time.  I just need to figure out where to get fishing line.  Twisting the fringe took awhile but it's nice and mindless and I got a nifty little fringe twister from an etsy seller that made the processes a bit easier.  It's not hard to do this by hand but after awhile it's murder on the fingers and the tool helps with that.  Plus the twists are much more even where I used the tool.

The fabric was finished with a cold water and Eucalan soak to preserve the sheen of the hand spun wool.  HRM will need to hand wash or dryclean this going forward but I think she can manage that.  The sample I wove was lightly fulled and it looked ok but lost a lot of the beautiful shine that the mohair in the hand spun gave the piece, so I went with a simpler finishing.  If she does accidentally full it a bit it won't damage it any, the thing is pretty big and she's not a tall woman so it will still look nice on her.

Overall this was a really fun project.  Not being 100% sure what sort of yarn I was going to get from the spinners was both fun and stressful, but I really enjoyed the collaborative aspect of the project.  Now that I have a better idea of what to expect and how to plan, I am looking forward to doing this again in the future.  I've already got some ideas for future project percolating away in the back of my head!