Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Needlework Books

The Royal School of Needlework (they of Kate's wedding lace fame) have some out with a series of very affordable, compact instructional books on a range of needlework techniques many of which are if interest to the reenacting crowd.  There is one on blackwork, one on goldwork, whitework, stumpwork, silk shading, and a range of other techniques.

I got the volumes on whitework and goldwork as Christmas gifts this year and am very impressed.  While not aimed specifically at the historically minded crowd, they cover the actual hows and whys of the subject, as well as bit of history.  The instructions are clear and the photography is both beautiful and helpful.  They won't take the place of in-person instruction for those who really need it, but if you learn well from books, or have had some class instruction and just need a reminder these are a great resources.  And at around $15 new, the prices are great!

A lot of other needlework books focus either on history to the exclusion of instruction, or pack in so much information that they overwhelm the reader and it becomes difficult to find the directions you need one how to execute a particular stitch when you need it.  These seem to fill the gap quite neatly and should prove to be a valuable reference for both new and experienced needleworkers.

The goldwork book in particular has a wonderful section on threads, explaining in detail the difference between all the different types of gold threads and how best to work them.  This alone is worth the price of the book, as for whatever reason this very important information seems to be missing from all of the other books on goldwork that I have in my library.  Kind of important stuff, and wonderful to have all in one place!  The author also does a great job explaining what sorts of working threads to use with the metal and emphasis the need to use the right sorts of needles and reserve needles and scissors for use with metal threads alone (critical, as the metal damages them and makes them useless for more delicate silks and cottons).

I am looking forward to picking up the volumes on blackwork and crewel work.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why document?

There's been a lot of discussion of late about documentation for A&S projects and it's got me a bit upset.  The debate has been running for awhile but it seems to have come to a head recently as the kingdom I live in has recently reworked it's A&S judging forms and given a greater weight to documentation in the scoring, so that it now accounts for 30% of the total score rather than 20% under the old system.

I stepped up as MOAS (minister of art and sciences for the non-SCA folks out there, basically the arts and education coordinator) for my local group a year ago. In that role, I have to run and help judge competitions as well as teach classes and help coordinate some kind of educational program for the barony.  For the previous two years I was heavily involved in competitions and displays, first as Baronial A&S Champion and then just because it was fun and I had built up a lot of momentum the year before.  There is no way to do any of these things without some form of documentation for your work.  There just isn't.  I cannot asses the work of another artisan as a judge* if I do not know what that work is supposed to be, where they got the inspiration for it, and at least something about how they made it.  I cannot teach a class about a subject that pertains to the middle ages without doing some kind of research and documenting that subject matter, that's sort of the point of teaching the class in the first place.  As a competitor, I do myself a disservice if I don't provide at least some basic documentation as I am not providing the judges with information about my work, my skill level, and the processes I used.  I have seen artisans judged on aspects of their display rather on the piece they had actually created because they failed to provide documentation and judged more harshly than they would otherwise have been because the judges did not know they were new to the art.

Good documentation does not and should not have to be a 75 page dissertation.  With very few exceptions, three written pages and a handful of pictures should be enough to explain what you made, why you made it, and how you did it, and give a little bit of the historical context of the thing in question.  Show me, the judge or curious passer-by, that you know where this thing fits into the wider world and give me the information I need to evaluate your work.  If it's a perfect replica of a thing in a museum, give me a enough information so that I can see that.  Otherwise how will I know?  That is all that is needed for this 30% boost in your score.

Novice competitions that require no documentation do no one any good.  They only serve to reinforce the idea that documentation is hard and scary and bad, and that A&S competitions are run and judged by mean, scary people who value academic attachments over the craft itself.  That's not the case at all.  The documentation is what allows us to asses all the other criteria we use for evaluating a thing and an artisans development; craftsmanship,  historical accuracy,  complexity and even aesthetic value.  Documentation is about showing your work, not about writing a thesis, and showing what you have learned in the process of making the thing you are sharing.  I have seen more new artisans come away from such competitions frustrated and hurt because their entries were improperly judged, not out of malice or cruelty but because of misunderstanding resulting from lack of documentation in the last year than I care to count.  I for one will not do that to any artisan, particularly a novice artisan, and would rather sit them down with a notepad and have them write out at least some basic information about the entry when they drop it off than have them leave something without any supporting documentation at all.  It isn't difficult, it won't get them full marks, but it will get them past the idea that documentation is a dirty word and a beyond their capabilities.

*I should note that I personally don't judge very often, save at local events when absolutely necessary, as I am not a member of one of the A&S orders or have any other particular qualifications to do so.  I do however talk a lot of my local members down after bad judging experiences and talk to a lot of judges at local event, universities, and any other event where I can or where I have members of my group competing or displaying. I have also been judged both kindly and less so, and solicited feedback from many of my own judges, which is always a good thing to do.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Finished knit bag

The knit bag I last wrote about is done, complete with drawstrings, lining and tassels, just in time for out local 12th Night and the gift basket it is destined for.  Yay!

Overall, I'm fairly pleased with it though it has a few composition problems.  It's too long for one thing, and something about the color transitions bugs me.  It looks better in photographs than in person.  Possibly the problem is just that I had the wrong shade of green.  Whatever, it's not that bad and I don't think it will annoy anyone other than me.  I've already started another bag in wool, just to use up some of the wool I already have, and get a little more complex colorwork practice in before I jump into the silk or cotton.  Since the fine silks the original relic bags were knit with is so expensive, I'm thinking I may do one or two with pearl cotton first, or maybe bamboo, as practice, before I invest in lots of expensive silk.  We'll see, I have other things to get done before I get to that.