Digital Devices for Lanea and Alherin

For the last Atlantian Crown tournament, I found that my Laurel, Ollam Lanea, and her partner, Sir Alherin, did not have good digital versions of their devices. I’ve been really enjoying making digital versions of people’s heraldry, so obviously I had to make them both versions to use however they deemed appropriate.

The design for both of these depended on other artists: the original designer of Alherin’s shield (whom I am afraid I do not know by name), and mutual friend Svana who made a banner for Lanea.

An Introduction for Esa

Esa inghean Donnchaidh was one of the first people I met in the SCA and a dear friend, so I was thrilled when I heard that she was going to receive her Laurel. While I unfortunately was unable to attend the glorious event, I was able to contribute in a small way by writing an introduction to court for her. This was then translated into Scots Gaelic by Naran Noyon, who heralded her entry for her elevation.

English Text

The evening star rises, heralds
last light of the day.
Sun strikes wave-washed islands,
inflames sanguine
Brodgar, Stanness, and sleeping Maeshowe.
See striding forth from stones’ heart
broch-builder’s blood-borne kindred,
a sea-eyed advocate and true-tongued teacher,
scholar of Caithness
and the womb’s ways,
the esteemed and beloved
Esa inghean Donnchaidh. 

Scots Gaelic Translation

One of the faults in my education is my lack of Scots Gaelic, so this translation was wonderfully done by by Naran Noyon. The text below is not his final version, and any transcription errors are mine; I hope to update this post soon with the final version that also includes the correct diacritics. As a translator myself, it was exciting to have someone translate my words, and I hope to hear more about his translation choices.

Reul an Fheasgair ag eirigh, A gairm solas mu dheireadh dh’en latha, 
Buailidh grian eileanan air am fliuchadh le tonnan,
‘Cuir teine ri Brodgar fuilteach , Staness ‘s Maeshowe nan cadal,
Faic Ise, A tighinn gu dana a-mach a cridhe chlachach,
Fior nighean Bhroch-togalaiche. 
Bean-tagraidh le suilean-mhara, 
Tidsear na fior theanga, 
Ban-Eolaiche Ghallaibh ‘s Doighean machlaig, 
Gaolach, Urramaichte. 
Esa Ingean Donnchaidh. 

Digital Device for Esa

I like Esa. I like her device. Esa liked the version of my device that I made for my website header. So I made a digital version of her device for her as a surprise.

The fish is from a standing stone appropriate to her time and location, but I of course lost the information on it during the art process.

2022 National Poetry Month Posts

April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to post as often as possible with a little bit about poetry! Here are the posts:

1: Introduction & Shakespeare

Greetings, Atlantia! While many folks are celebrating at Coronation, I did not want to let today slip away without noting that April is National Poetry Month! As your Poeta for a little longer, I hope to post bits and pieces about poetry throughout this month, as time allows. But let’s not wait: today, I want to talk about Shakespeare!

Love him or hate him, Shakespeare’s works have had an immeasurable influence. While there is much to say about his poetry, I want to highlight Shakespeare’s use of verse in his plays. In these, he masterfully combines prose and verse; transitions between these forms (as well as between different kinds of verse) can give us clues about a character’s personality, status, or even changing thoughts.

This article from the British Library provides an excellent overview along with many interesting examples of how shifts between prose and poetry convey information to the audience. With his life straddling the end of our time period, Shakespeare makes a perfect start to National Poetry Month!

2: Aristotle’s Poetics

Greetings, Atlantia! On the second day of National Poetry Month, I’m thinking about the theory of poetry, specifically, De Poetica (Poetics) by Aristotle, one of the first known works on literary theory. Indeed, while there are a great many opinions about this ancient work (dating to around 335 BCE), it still has a strong influence on modern conceptions of narrative. While too complex to boil down in a short post (and I’m certainly no expert), its emphasis on tragedy and comedy still affects how we divide genres of stories. Indeed, as I was considering what to write about for this month, I found myself categorizing poems as comedy, tragedy, lyric, and epic, all categories that Aristotle identified (indeed, the points where I struggled to apply this Westernized conception of poetry was with forms that originated outside Europe — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!). That said, I find it interesting that the parts of Aristotle’s Poetics that survive are primarily thanks to Ibn Rushd, a twelfth-century Andalusian scholar that some folks may known better via his Latinized name, Averroes. If you’d like to deep-dive into the text of De Poetica yourself, you can read it for free here. While it’s quite short, there is much to be gleaned and argued over!

3: Epic of Gilgamesh

What was intended: share with Atlantia a bit about the Epic of Gilgamesh, as the oldest surviving epic poem, for the third day of National Poetry Month! What actually happened: I ended up in a deep, deep rabbit hole discovering way more than I ever intended about Akkadian and Sumerian poetry and mythology. Oops.

While the Epic of Gilgamesh is billed as the oldest surviving epic poem, the best surviving copies date to 600s BCE; however, different versions have been dated to between 1200s-900s BCE (the Standard Babylonian version)  and even around 1700s BCE (the Old Babylonian version). This full epic, written in Akkadian, is in fact pre-dated by five earlier poems written in Sumerian (dating to ~2100 BCE); of these, the majority appear in some form in the longer, later epic, while the others are echoed thematically if not specifically.

Episodic in nature, the first half of the poem is centered around the friendship of Gilgamesh (a king) and Enkidu (a former wild man). Thousands-years-spoilers: Enkidu dies at the end of this part, triggering the second half, wherein Gilgamesh seeks both eternal life and youth. While he finds his immortal ancestor, Utnapishtim, who rescued mortal life during a Great Flood, he finds that immortality is beyond the reach of him and all humanity. This summary, however, does not do the epic justice; I recommend perusing the many summaries online or some of the links below.

For me, one of my most interesting discoveries was that scholars are still unsure how the poetic form of the Standard Babylonian version actually functioned, though they agree that parallelism is an important feature. This is divided into repetitive (repeating phrases), progressive (using different imagery to say the same thing), and incremental (adding additional detail to repetitive phrases). These all create slightly different meaning and texture in the verse while emphasizing important aspects.

Some links for more information:

4: Mahabharata

Continuing with epics on day four of National Poetry Month, let’s talk about the Mahābhārata! The Mahābhārata is the longest-ever epic poem, with the longest version reaching 200,000 lines! With a number of framing devices within the 18 sections or books, the larger poem contains other important shorter texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and a short version of the Rāmāyana. It is composed of shloka, 32-syllable couplets that can be divided into half-verses or quarter-verses. While some sections are as old as 400 BCE, the story itself is believed to be set between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. It is a delightfully complex tale full of familial, political, and cosmic drama, with the purported author Vyasa also appearing as a character. Focusing on two specific branches of the ruling family of Hastinapura as they struggle for the throne, the story is an incredibly important piece of literature in Hinduism. Indeed, as a non-expert, there’s no way I can do this incredibly important epic justice, but this 60-second synopsis made me cackle in glee. For a longer version, this seems to be a good video. And, as with Gilgamesh, Wikipedia continues to have a really good synopsis. I hope you take a second to explore further about the Mahābhārata — it’s enriching!

5: Beowulf

Y’all should have placed bets on how long it would take me to get to Beowulf during National Poetry Month.

Anyway! While the manuscript for Beowulf (Cotton Vitellius A.xv — but I won’t get distracted by the Cotton Library right now) is dated to between 975 and 1010, it’s unclear when Beowulf was exactly written— and when, and by who. It references real historic individuals who lived in Scandinavia in the 5th and 6th centuries, but it has no known predecessors, and it seems to have been originally composed in Old English.

It is hard for me to pluck out important highlights for this poem, as I have far, far too much to say, and it has been far, far too misunderstood to begin easily. Superficially, it seems to glory in the life of the warrior, but this is a superficial reading. One of my favorite summaries of the content comes from the blurb of the Seamus Heaney translation: “The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath.” This is a strongly mournful, melancholic, nostalgic strain throughout the poem; It is more than aware that the world it speaks on is dead and gone, and indeed may have never existed. It gestures slightly at the complexity of this world, and the many factions that lead to the final, fatal ending: hubris, disregard of family, broken promises. The significant absence of women (except for several significant moments) only highlights that Beowulf’s line ends with his death; their absence is not an oversight but a dark hole around which the poem circles. It is complex, and hard to understand and come to grips with.

In recent years, this poem has been plagued by poor adaptations, but we don’t have time for the rants I have regarding that. So, to conclude, if you’re only going to watch one performance of Beowulf, please watch Benjamin Bagby’s version in Old English, as it is an expert rendition that lets you feel the story without necessarily understanding a word that is said. That said, if you choose to watch a second, I recommend the East Kingdom production from 2020, wherein Atlantia was represented by Magistra Iselda and myself: part 1 and part 2. And if you read only one scholarly work about it, read Tolkien’s “The Monsters and the Critics.” Let me know if you do.

6: The Shahnameh

Continuing this week of National Poetry Month on the theme of epics, let’s talk about the Shahnameh! Literally meaning “Book of Kings,” the Shahnameh was written over 33 years (from 977 to 1010 CE) by the poet Ferdowsi. Based on a prose version, the final poem by Ferdowsi reaches around 50,000 rhyming couplets (each line of each couplet between 22 syllables in the same meter), divided into 62 stories and 990 chapters. This poem is considered the national epic of Greater Iran (a historic area that stretches, modernly, from parts of Turkey to western China, and from Uzbekistan to the Arabian Sea), and thus has a significant connection to the many cultures of this wide region. Written in Early New Persian, it was beloved by many of the rulers, conquerors, and dynasties that existed across this area, and also continues to have a huge linguistic influence on modern Persian language and significance in Zoroastrianism.

Like other epics, the Shahnameh has an emphasis on a lost, better past, but its scope is much vaster. Ostensibly a mythic-historical past of the Persian Empire, the poem starts with the creation of the world, passes through the conquest of Alexander the Great and the Sassanid Empire to conclude with the Arab conquest of Persia. Indeed, while many later kingdoms and empires loved this poem, there was often discomfort with the recurring theme of regicide. The historic background of the Shahnameh, and its reception, is a fascinating topic in and of itself; this article is a nice starting point on the subject.

The Shahnameh became a popular text for illumination, and extant versions exist in a number of gorgeous manuscripts. Indeed, if you are a scribe and have done a scroll for anywhere in this region, it’s likely that you’ve looked up a copy of the Shahnameh at some point. Need a Mongol or Ilkhanid text? Timurid? Turkmen? Safavid? You’ve probably looked at the Shahnameh! And if you haven’t looked yet, go have a peek at some of the beautiful manuscripts of this poem.

Finally, if you’d like to read this epic for yourself, both a prose translation and a verse translation are available online.

7: La Chanson de Roland and El Cantar de Mio Cid

Today we’re shifting from epic to its sub-genre, the chanson de geste / cantar de gesta (song of deeds) with the double-header of La Chanson de Roland and El Cantar de Mio Cid, aka The Song of Roland and El Cid! One Old French, one Old Castilian (Spanish), both have many similarities:

  • both are considered the national epics of their respective countries
  • both were composed around roughly the same time (Roland between 1040 and 1115, El Cid between 1140 and 1207)
  • both focus more-or-less on a singular hero who was a real person (Roland, of course, and Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called El Cid)
  • both are roughly the same length (4000 lines for Roland, 3700 for El Cid)
  • both have poetic forms that focus on assonance end-rhymes, both are preoccupied with al-Andalus and the Reconquista
  • both are roughly intelligible with some work if you speak the modern language (I can understand both, sort of, and my French and Spanish are both abysmal!), and
  • both had a significant influence on literature and music that followed.

Wow! What a list!

La Chanson de Roland was the first chanson de geste. Set in the 8th century during Charlemagne’s reign, it is written in decasyllabic verse with irregular stanzas called “laisse.” In the poem, Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, is with Charlemagne’s army campaigning in Spain. On a final retreat into France, the army is ambushed in the pass of Roncesvalles, having been betrayed by Roland’s uncle, Ganelon, who had been tasked with bringing a message of peace to the Muslim court. Roland, in the rear guard, makes a final stand, but only blows his horn (an elephant horn, or oliphant) for aid from the advance guard when it is too late. The end of the poem concerns Charlemagne dealing with the fallout of his nephew’s death and his retreat from France. While based on real events, in actuality, the Battle of Roncesvalles was between the Franks and Basques, and Charlemagne was in Spain on invitation of Sulayman al-Arabi, governor of Barcelona and Girona. However, this requires nuance, and La Chanson is rather intent on villainizing Muslim Spain. To read the full poem, check out this public-domain verse translation or this online edition in Old French.

In contrast, El Cantar de Mio Cid comes along once the chanson de geste is an established genre. Written in lines of 14 to 16 syllables, it was definitely meant for public performance, and likely started in oral tradition. However, there’s a (slim) possibility that its hero, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, knew of La Chanson de Roland: he lived from around 1043 to 1099, well after Roland’s composition! The fictionalized version of his life begins when he is a tribute-collector in al-Andalus for Alfonso VI. Accused of stealing some of this tribute, he is exiled to al-Andalus, where he performs raids and conquers the city of Valencia, earning his way back into Alfonso’s good graces. The remainder of the poem is concerned with his daughters, who are supposedly auspiciously married, but their husbands (who we discover were El Cid’s false accusers) mistreat them. After these men are humiliated and defeated, the daughters are remarried to crown princes of Spain. While this last bit is fabrication, the real Cid worked for some time as a highly-competent military leader for Muslim rulers in al-Andalus during his (real) exile. When he died during a siege of Valencia, his very cool wife, Jimena, supposedly strapped his corpse to his horse to inspire their troops. While this poem is equally as preoccupied with the Reconquista as Roland, it has a bit more nuance; even the nickname, “Cid,” comes from the Arabic word for lord, “sidi” (dialectical) or “sayyid”. You can read a version in both English and Spanish here.

Now, one caveat: if you choose to read these poems, I suggest you read them scholarly and critically. Because of their preoccupation with al-Andalus and the Reconquista (which is especially one-sided in La Chanson de Roland), there is much to learn about the historic justification for the Crusades and the roots of modern Islamophobia from these poems. While they are beautiful pieces of verse, we must not read them in a vacuum, but approach them thoughtfully.

8: Hurrian Songs

Greetings, friends! It’s been a week, but I have forgotten neither you nor National Poetry Month! Today I want to switch gears from strictly what we conceive of as poetry to highlight the Hurrian Songs. I discovered the Hurrian Songs during last year’s Bardic War (thanks to a composition-process rabbit hole), and I instantly fell in love with them. Composed around 1400 BCE in what is now Syria, the language and language family of these songs is extinct. Recorded on clay tablets in cuneiform, they are some of the earliest (if not the earliest) examples of notated music, though the notation is far different from what the modern Western world conceives of as notation. While we have a collection of 36 hymns, only one is complete (no. 6); addressed to the goddess Nikkal, wife of the moon god, no. 6 is definitely religious in nature and concerned about fertility. You can read a translation here.

So why talk about music in regards to poetry – why does this matter? Well, for most of human history, the concept of music and poetry being separate and different didn’t exist (as with poem vs. story, but we’ll save that for later). Verse and song were and are inextricably linked, and exploring one helps us understand the other better. In addition, these songs are an excellent example of having to reconstruct ephemeral art from the past, as well as how we must mediate between multiple forms and sources in order to both understand and share the past and create our own works in the poetic and bardic community.  

Because of this, I recommend you spend some time exploring the following performances of Hurrian Song no. 6: 

Work for Kolfinna Valravn’s Golden Dolphin, 2022

Photograph by Nicolo Santorio

Kolfinna Valravn is one of my favorite people, period. In addition to being an amazing artist, Kolfinna is unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and giving; she thinks of others, and then does something tangible with it. She is always working to make others’ lives better, even when “on a break”. Of course I had to help with her Golden Dolphin (GoA service award).

Ollamh Lanea gathered a dream team for this scroll: Bran Mydwynter was our designer, Aurri le Borgne was the “illuminator” (which, in this case, handled substrates, engraving, and assembly), Lanea wrote the beautiful words (of course!), and I was in charge of calligraphy… and spinning and weaving.

Yes. I got to spin and weave for a scroll. Even better: I got to spin and weave for a scroll for Kolfinna!

You see, Kolfinna loves the Bronze Age, especially the Egtved Girl. Bran knew this, and designed a scroll that incorporated the Egtved Girl’s spiky belt plaque, corded skirt, and a runic plaque (the research behind the runic translation ALONE is incredibly impressive, let alone the piece as a whole, so please go read about that now).

But first, let’s talk about the calligraphy.

Runic Calligraphy

Runic practice and color decisions

The plaque for the calligraphy was made by Aurri out of a piece of pergamenata attached to thin wood and then spraypainted, giving it an excellent metallic sheen. I had never done calligraphy for a scroll without tracing, so I was incredibly nervous (I hadn’t traced the calligraphy for the Apprentice’s Manuscript, but if I messed up with that I could scrape it or start a new folio if needed). I spot-tested to see if an eraser hurt the base paint, and it didn’t seem to, but I was worried enough about reducing the sheen that I decided to minimize erasing as much as possible. I really didn’t want to freehand this, though, as I was terrified I would mess up the spacing.

Bran’s runic layout

Thankfully, Bran had made a layout with the runes that was almost the exact size of the plaque. After discussing with Aurri, I resized it slightly in Procreate to increase the margins so she had more flexibility with attachments when assembling, and then I went old-school carbon-copy-transfer tech: I rubbed the entire back with a pencil, placed it carefully onto the plaque, and then traced over it with a mechanical pencil to transfer the design to the surface.

Since the original runes had fairly regular line weight, being incised, I tried several different tools to paint the runes, including about a dozen different paintbrushes and a tool only known as the dottifier. After some trial and error, I settled on using a crow quill with acrylic paint.

Finished plaque

This was incredibly satisfying to do, and I am quite smug about how well it turned out. I also don’t think I can call myself a baby calligrapher anymore.

The Skirt

Combed wool roving (blended grey) and black locks

I did the initial research and spinning for an Egtved skirt in 2020 (in fact, I kept bugging Kolfinna with info about it as I was researching and spinning for it), but I’ve been stalled on the actual creation process. However, because of this, I was immediately ready to make a small sampler for the scroll! Because I plan to weave a full skirt soon(ish), I’m not going to go particularly in depth in this section.

While I’ve spun a lot of wool in the last two years, I wanted to spin specially for this project, because I knew exactly the wool to use. Pre-pandemic, Kolfinna joined me at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival for her first ever visit, and she fell madly in love with Jacob sheep (and their two-to-six horns on both sexes). I had purchased a Jacob fleece in 2021, and while the fleece was predominately white (to my disappointment), I thought there may be enough to make the cords of the skirt black. Because I wasn’t quite sure how much yardage I would need, I decided to make the woven base out of white wool; it would be hidden anyway, and extend the amount of wool I had.

Aiming for an 8″-wide sample, I estimated the amount of yarn I needed. I then processed an appropriate amount of wool using wool combs borrowed from Lanea (having washed the fleece last year), then spun up the yarn at ~10 WPI on my wheel. While I was worried about yarn chicken, I actually only used about half the yarn I spun for the skirt sample:

Estimate Total Spun Used
White (warp) 8 yards + 1 yard plied 32 yards (7.1 grams) 16 yards
Black (weft & cords) 101 yards 114 yards (127 grams) 62 yards
Grey (twining) 2 yards 14 yards (1.42 grams) <1 yard
The weaving: observe the three loops of black weft (six threads total) per pass of the warp.
The rigged inkle set-up

Time for weaving! The Egtved skirt has an interesting construction, where three loops of weft are pulled through and placed on a peg per pass of the warp; as the weaving progresses, two loops are twisted tightly and then plied together into cords. The amazing fiber artist who reconstructed the skirt originally used pegs clamped to a table instead of a loom (which you can see here), but I don’t have a table where I can set up for a long time. Thus, I rigged a semi-portable set-up. I put the warp on my inkle loom, turned my rigid heddle loom upside-down and clamped a peg to its crossbar, and then sat on the floor with my leg between the inkle and the rigid heddle loom. I kept a ruler nearby to make sure that the peg was always 15″ from the warp (especially important to check after taking a break!). As I progressed in the weaving, I plied the cords together using a hand-cranked plying tool to speed the process. As with the original, I tied the ends of each cord in a half-square knot before carrying on.

Pinning the rings out to equal length in preparation for twining

Once the eight inches were woven, it was time for finishing the bottom of the cords. In the Egtved skirt, the end of each cord has the ends overlapped into a ring, then wrapped with some lightly-felted wool. Instead of combing, I flicked a bunch of white locks, and then threaded the loose locks onto a yarn needle. Using the needle, I threaded the lock through the ends of the loops (to bind them together) before wrapping them around the cords. Instead of wet-felting or friction-felting the ends, I used a modern needle-felting needle (stabby stabby stabby!). Once this was completed, I twined the cords right above these rings with the grey yarn.

Then, I blocked the whole piece. Instead of soaking the piece, I pinned it to the correct length and sprayed it with a squirt bottle, sopping up the extra water with towels. Once it was dry, I wove in all the ends except one, which I left so Aurri could tell the front from the back (as much as there was one).

Finally, I wove in all the ends, and passed it off to Aurri with the calligraphed plaque for assembly.

All the pieces laid out and waiting for assembly (photo courtesy of Aurri)

It truly was a fantastic experience to work on this collaboration with Lanea, Bran, and Aurri; it truly was greater than the sum of its parts. The only thing better was Kolfinna’s reaction when she saw it!

Laurel Scroll Text for Valgard av Mors, 2022

Scroll by Kolfinna Valravn

I was extremely excited when Kolfinna Valravn asked me to write the text for Valgard av Mors’ Laurel scroll, and even more excited when I found out she was basing it on the Franks Casket (full details here!). I knew that Mors is an amazing smith (making the Franks Casket, with its depiction of Wayland the Smith, even more appropriate), but she had a few additional suggestions: skulls are good, and make it metal. In addition, the space we had was quite tiny, which I love – I love space constraints that require me to write something perfect for the individual in as few words as possible. Since we were in my happy home of Anglian artifacts, I of course had to write alliterative verse; since I had been reading more alliterative verse in the last few months, I had a much better sense of where I could bend the constraints of the form in the process. Once I latched on to an opening phrase and a few specific images, the poem sprung almost fully-formed, only needing some minor editing and adjusting to make sure the flow was as perfect as possible.

Read more

2022 Atlantian Persona Development Challenge

I was quite excited when Lady Esa inghean Donnchaid announced the Atlantian Persona Development Challenge, as I love challenges that give people an opportunity to expand their in-depth historical knowledge while creating things! You can read more about the challenge itself here, as well as see the displays as people complete items.

The challenge itself spans the spring-to-fall reign (April 2 to October 1) and requires that four objects be completed over the time. While the idea is to display at four events (two Coronations, Crown, and Pennsic), the projects can be works-in-progress until the final event.

For this challenge, I am focusing on my 7th-century Northumbrian Anglian persona. I have recently been doing a research deep-dive into Anglian garb, so I hope to use this as an opportunity to expand my wardrobe in a more accurate manner.

This page is my landing page for my entries. Below, you will find a description of each item I plan, with regularly updated pictures and links to longer posts (once they exist!).

Item 1: Winingas

Natural and indigo-dyed two-ply Romney yarn, ready for weaving!

Winingas, or leg wraps, are commonly seen in Migration-era Scandinavian men’s outfits (“Viking”) as well as later Saxon men’s garb (11th century). While there is little physical evidence regarding any leg coverings in 7th-century England, men must have covered their legs with something, and winingas are as likely as anything. There’s also a possibility that women wore winingas under long skirts in cold weather. While I primarily do women’s garb, I do have plans to make a masculine kit, and winingas will be useful in cold weather for either.

For weaving, I plan to use the Romney fleece that I processed in 2019 and spun in 2020. In 2020, I dyed half of the yarn with indigo (which is chemically indistinguishable from woad). I plan to use the undyed as the warp and the dyed as the weft. For weaving, this blog post may end up being quite useful.

Item 2: Ring Pouch

Previous ring pouches: silk and linen (L) and leather (R). I have not written up the leather pouch, as I was unhappy with its construction.

I made a ring pouch for my fate garb, but it doesn’t go with most of my garments. For this, I would like to model the pouch off historical ones that had a leather outside and weft-faced lining.

Item 3: Dress

In my Anglian garb deep-dive, I’ve been hypothesizing several different dress constructions. I plan to make one for this project.

Item 4: TBD

I have several ideas for my final item, but I will reveal that as I progress on the other items.


Opal Scroll Text and Calligraphy for Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco

Illumination by Aurri le Borgne, calligraphy and wordsmithing by yours truly

When Aurri le Borgne asked if I wanted to collaborate on an Opal scroll for Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco, I lept at the chance! Ilhuicacihuatl is an incredibly giving person in both time and energy, an amazing teacher (I’ve learned so much from her classes), and a force to be reckoned with in New World studies in the SCA. In short: she’s awesome, and I wanted to be part of creating a scroll for her!

And then Aurri clarified that she wanted me to do both wordsmithing and calligraphy, and I went… okay. I was still considering myself a baby calligrapher, and I knew that whatever was out there was going to be far outside my wheelhouse, but it was worth it! (Also I don’t think I can call myself a baby calligrapher after this piece anymore!).

After convincing myself I couldn’t learn Nahuatl in less than a month and therefore an original language composition was out of the question (for now), I dived into research, looking for both a calligraphic hand and appropriate text. I quickly discovered Bernardino de Sahagún, a sixteenth-century friar and Nahuatl nerd who recorded both cultural and literary information regarding the Aztec people in a Western alphabet (score!). In the time I had, I couldn’t find both a literary text in translation and digitized manuscript, but I found two related pieces: The Florentine Codex, digitized by the Library of Congress and in Bernardino’s own hand, and Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España, which was probably recorded by Bernardino, exists in one 17th-century manuscript, but available transcribed and translated by John Bierhorst and available for free online. Aurri had found a similar manuscript from Bernardino for the illumination, so we were good to go!

First: wordsmithing. Nahuatl poetry is new to me, and so at this point the most historically accurate I could get would be by cobbling together bits of the translated Ballads and massaging them into something that works for an SCA scroll. I read through the entirety of the Ballads (which aren’t particularly long), and I was struck by both the beauty and cultural resonance of the pieces. Despite knowing very little about the culture, I could still see the significance of multiple items and images (such as gold, jade, and flowers — flowers abounded!); I was moved by how the poetry wedded joy in beauty and sadness at its transience. Because I’m a language nerd, I still had to do a little linguistic digging, so I used the online Nahuatl Dictionary to look up Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco’s name. I giggled at how perfect the name was for her and decided to work it into the scroll text.

The final text uses lines from poems I, II, IX, X, XVIII, and XXXIII in the Ballads:

Friends, let us go sing in Marinus, in Atlantia, on the second Day of Love. Eckehard and Jane have come to string jewels, to adorn with flowers. They value as gold the good service of a heavenly woman from flower fields; her heart and works are jade. Let there be broad plumes and opals: let Ilhuicacihuatl de Xochimilco be inducted into the Order of the Opal. May all know her name, may her flowers not wither. Let’s drink—let’s eat—cacao flowers: our hearts are glad with flowers this February 26, A.S. LVI.

Because I knew Ilhuicacihuatl was making chocolates for the event where this would be received, I had to include “let’s drink—let’s eat—cacao flowers” directly from Poem IX. Also, since the translation by Bierhorst rendered the poetry in a visually prosaic form, I retained that for the scroll text.

Next, the calligraphy! I was really lucky that I had an exemplar from one person, right? Right? WRONG. Y’all, Bernardino couldn’t write an “a” the same way twice in The Florentine Codex. He also couldn’t write the same size twice. Or keep his slant consistent. That said, all of this was a boon to me: I struggle with slanting scripts, and this late-period hand was entirely new to me (and learned in less than a week), so any inconsistencies in my version actually make it more accurate! Ha! An additional benefit was that his handwriting was not too different from earlier batarde scripts, which I had practiced in the past, so all-in-all it was not too difficult a task to handle. My final version was still a little rounder than the original, but I’m still pleased with how it came out.

Ductus from Bernardino’s hand.

For the ductus, I tried to use mostly letter-forms from the Nahuatl part of the manuscript; however, I had to fill it out with letters from the Spanish part, as there are multiple letters used in English and Spanish that did not appear in the Nahuatl text. Even with that, there were some letters that are fairly common in English that I couldn’t find in the manuscript (especially K and W), so I had to hypothesize my own letter forms for that based on the original.

To make sure that I got the calligraphy right on the first try, I did a test piece on Bristol using the same nib and ink (I don’t remember the nib size, but the ink was Noodler’s Eel Black). This piece was fairly successful, with only a couple errors but good spacing, so I taped over the errors and simply traced it for the final product.

I think it came out all right!

Total 2021 Spinning Yardage

Uh oh.

You know how, in 2020, I spun 5,179 yards, equivalent to nearly 3 miles (or over 6 miles when you account for the plying)?

This year I spun 6,688 total yards, or 11,312 when plying is included. This equals 3.8 miles of yarn and 6.42 miles of actual spinning/plying. And I barely spun between August and December.

The picture contains:

Top row: Corriedale gradient and half the Romney fleece
Bottom left: Brown wool (experiment with spin direction) and a wool/seacell blend
Bottom right: “eco” blend, silk, wool/seacell blend
Far right: wool from spinning speed experiment
Not pictured: the Romney that was dyed with indigo, several skeins that were gifted, a red-gold blend that I immediately threw on a loom and wove trim out of, and a couple skeins that I’m re-setting the twist on.

Wool breeds include Corriedale, merino, and an entire Romney fleece (yes, THAT fleece!). I also dyed slightly more than half of the Romney yarn in indigo. Blends include wool/seacell and a man-made biodegradable “eco” fiber (which was a weird spin). I also spun some silk!

I’m not going to try and surpass this goal for 2022, but I would like to spin up at least two of the fleeces I have in storage, so… we’ll see.



Appliquéd Banner

In the middle of 2020, I began work on an appliquéd banner of my arms, using a large scrap of green wool (from Ysabeau’s cloak) and scraps of gold and white silk. I handsewed the tube to fit around a hanging rod, wove the strap for hanging out of silk, started embroidering the lozenges for my device, and then… let it languish for a year.

After regarding the banner for a long time, I realized I’d made the base too big for regular usage. Mostly, I was annoyed that I couldn’t hang it well on a door (way too big) and that, for most of the year, the pole was smashing into the doorjamb. I also had the opportunity to see several other people’s banners, which gave me a better sense of what worked (and that my original was incredibly large). I also used several people’s banners to decorate shared space, so I had a better sense for what strap configurations worked (or didn’t).

So, I cut the background down, fixed the tube, cut down the rod, and sanded small divots into the rod for the strap. While I previously had just tied on the strap, this time I sewed it down, with both a wide hanging loop and two smaller loops that could be attached to something else (versatility!). Then, I set down to complete the rest of the embroidery and applique. The lozenges were split-stitch embroidered with faux-silver thread in a knotwork pattern of my design. The horse’s design was adapted from a horse on the Sutton Hoo helmet, embroidered with a combination of satin and chain stitch. The horse and the lozenges were made of one layer of silk and one layer of linen for stability separate from the base, and then sewn on after.

The full banner
Detail of the horse’s head, with satin and chain stitch
Detail of the lozenge, with split-stitch knotwork
Detail of the inkle-woven silk strap, with small hanging loops

And, because I’m extra, I covered up the applique stitches with chain stitch embroidery on the reverse/wrong side.

Back of the banner with chain stitch

While the banner isn’t perfect (it definitely needs a lot of steaming and hanging to stretch out some of the wrinkles!), I’m glad that it’s done, and I’m looking forward to displaying it in 2022.