When Baron Hamish MacLeod found out that his wife, Baroness Ysabeau ferch Gwalchaved, was going to be surprised with her Laurel at Bright Hills Baronial Birthday in February 2020, he asked me to create her Laurel cloak. Now-Mistress Ysabeau is a spinner, weaver, and sewer who handsewed garb for one of her first events 32 years ago (in a time and place when handsewn garb was actually looked down on — how far we have come!) so I knew I had to pull out all the stops I had.
The body of the cloak is wool fabric from Burnley and Trowbridge sewn with a light fingering weight wool yarn that I already had (and happened to match perfectly!). Because the fabric is fulled and doesn’t fray, I didn’t need to flatfell. I usually flatfell for strength, though, so I backsewed all the construction seams to make up for that. The body is made of wedges, but the collar is rounded.
The appliqued laurel wreath and device is a mixture of fulled plainweave wool (laurel leaves, red goutes on the device), wool twill (black field of the device), and silk (wavy bend). It is appliqued with a mixture of 20/2 silk thread and silk sewing thread. The ermine spots on the black field were embroidered with 20/2 silk thread. The wool is from Burnley and Trowbridge, the silk fabric is from Dharma Trading, and the 20/2 silk thread is from Eowyn de Wever.
The cloak is lined fully in black silk (also from Dharma Trading) sewn with black silk thread. The clasp (two fox heads, for Mistress Ysabeau’s fox badge) is from Cloakmakers. The lining was sewn into wool facings on the front edges and the collar, but given a light loose tacking at the seams on the hem.
At some point in the murky past (that is, 2019), Kaaren, Adelaide, and I made a joke about how we’re the three Fates. I am, of course, the spinner Clotho, Adelaide the measurer Lachesis, and Kaaren the inflexible/cutter Atropos. When we discovered that we all had bought (or wanted to buy) the same grey linen, we decided to make Fates-themed garb in our preferred styles (we also managed to be chronological as well!). For a deadline, we set Twelfth Night 2020.
Because I was doing early period English, I felt a little guilty that my garb wouldn’t be as complicated and require as much hard work as Adelaide and Kaaren’s. So I decided to make everything I wore.
The first layer was where I used the grey linen. Although a standard tunic, I played with the gores on this for fit. Instead of having hip-height gores, I put in long trapezoidal ones that stretched from the edge of the sleeve to the hem. The sleeves are also my first fitted sleeves that would require a closure. I tablet-wove trim for the neck and cuffs out of silk in two different widths with slightly different patterns. Both used the same threading, but I cut out warp threads for the cuffs and turned the cards fewer times. As there is some archaeological evidence for belts on this layer, I wove a three-inch-wide belt out of wool that was wide enough to wrap twice around. I wrapped this under my bust almost as a supportive layer, and it was quite comfortable (and kept me standing up very straight!). On top of this layer I put a black silk peplos–no progress photos for this, as it’s just a big ole silk tube. (Do I need to say everything was handsewn and flatfelled? It’s me–assume it was unless I say otherwise).
As I took a silversmithing class in June 2019, I decided to make all the fittings I could for this garb. Two hours of work in the silversmithing studio, and I had two nearly-matching annular brooches, two wrist clasps, and a circlet! For the annular brooches, I tried different orders of operation for each; on one I soldered the pin shut first, on the other I soldered the brooch ring shut first. The latter technique seemed to work better for me. While annular brooches in period seem to be cast instead of forged, I haven’t learned to cast metals yet, so this worked for my current skill-set. The wrist-clasps were inspired by a historical find that didn’t have an attachment, but I made the hook a little shorter than I should have.
I realized a few days before the event that I hadn’t made a belt pouch. A quick Google led me to a couple different patterns, which seemed to follow most rectangular pouches but inserted a ring around the mouth and included a strap. I used the last remaining inches of the trim for the strap; the lining was leftover linen and the outside was leftover silk. I even made the ring from some junk wire! It was more than big enough to carry everything I needed, and fit my spindle in it quite well.
However, the peace I am most pproud of was my rune-belt. Four yards tablet-woven out silk, this took me over 22 hours from start to finish. It wraps twice around my body and hangs nearly to my hem. It was my first complicated pattern and my first double-faced weaving, and I came up for the runes’ patterns myself (you can see how I refined the letters in each repeat). The runes literally say “ic spinne þone þræd wyrde,” which is Old English for “I spin the thread of fate.”
So, on Twelfth Night, I was able to say that I made everything I wore except the rings on my right hand.
After taking a class on natural dyeing using different yellows and indigo in May 2019 at Maryland Sheep and Wool, I decided it was finally time to dye the Romney fleece I bought in 2017. However, I wanted to test sun-colorfastness first, as I had noticed some garments that I dyed with commercial dyes were fading significantly after 2 years of SCA wear and washing.
I decided I wanted to test weld, madder, and indigo (the great triumvirate of medieval dyes) plus cochineal; I also wanted to test these dyes in combination.
If I was going to do four different dyepots, I didn’t want to do them for just a handful of spun samples. I pulled commercial linen fabric, silk fabric, and silk thread to accompany the wool. For the wool, I decided to dye both locks and spun yarn. The majority of the yarn was handspun worsted from full locks. However, I spun some woollen out of just the white roots and just out of the yellow tips to test less extensively than the rest of the wool. All of the wool was spun on a spindle. Overall, my materials are:
Wool (Romney fleece)
Handspun (full locks and partial locks)
Fabric purchased from Dharma Trading
Fabric purchased from Dharma Trading
2/20 thread purchased from Eowyn de Wever on Etsy
I scoured all the commercial samples with Synthrapol in an enameled pot that has a dent exposing some of the steel. I then cold-soaked all the fibers in alum (aluminum sulfate) at 12% WOG (weight of goods) for around 23 hours in a plastic tub.
My water is pH neutral.
Unless otherwise noted, all items in this experiment were dyed in an enameled pot with a dent (exposing a small surface area of steel) on a gas stove. A draining rack was included with the weld and madder, but after it left marks on some of the items during the madder dye, it was removed.
Dye: 3% WOG of a powdered extract.
Process: Put in at 3:34 PM at 81F. Raised the temperature to 180F on medium-high heat over one hour. Turned off, left to cool, and then rinsed in cool tap water.
Dye: 20% WOG of ground root
Process: Put in at 7:39 PM in tap-hot water (118F) on medium-high heat. Raised the temperature to 180F over 40 minutes. Left to cool overnight. Goods removed at 10:14 AM but were too orange. Added household ammonia to get a pH of 10. Goods re-added and reheated to 170F. Turned heat off and left in dye for over 24 hours, then rinsed in cool tap water.
Dye: 100% WOG
Process: Cochineal were hand-ground and soaked in a glass vessel overnight (read: “Don’t touch the bug-juice in the stein!”). They were then strained through an old tea sock, which was tied up with a pipe clearn and put in the dye pot with the strained liquid and additional water. This concoction was put on high heat until simmering, then held at simmering for 20 minutes. The bug packet was then squeezed and removed and the pot was filled further with hand-hot water. The goods were put in at 120F on medium-high heat. Heat was raised to 160F, then 1 tsp cream of tartar was added and stirred (because I forgot it earlier). I continued raising the heat to 180F, turned the heat to medium-low, and left it covered for 20 minutes. I then turned off the heat and left it for 75 minutes. I put in additional goods to absorb dye (spare roving), raised the temperature up to 180F, then immediately turned it off and left it to cool for 5 hours. The goods were cooled and then rinsed.
The indigo was done at a dyeing day run by Gusukuma Kame. The indigo was pre-reduced crystals with tap-hot water, dyed outside. All goods were soaked in cool water, dipped once in the indigo, hung up to drip, and then rinsed in citric acid. Because I was still getting a lot of crocking after the citric acid rinse, I also did an extensive rinse in Synthrapol.
When I decided that I was testing sun-fading, I decided wanted to do it right: over multiple periods of time. Thus, when I put together my goods for dyeing, I pulled enough to have sun-testing lots of each combination for these times:
1 week (June 13 – June 20 or June 20 – June 27, depending on predicted sun)
1 month (June 1 – June 30; may include the yellow-only dyed wool, the white-only dyed wool, and undyed wool)
3 months (April 24 – July 24, centered around Midsummer)
6 months (March 15 – September 15)
1 year (January 1 – December 31)
I also put together a dyed control lot and an undyed control lot to keep out of the sun. All of these lots will be put in a south-facing window.
Takeaways Thus Far
I liked the results of dyeing the wool and silk the best, as the color was richest on these dyes and weakest on the linen (as expected — protein fibers take dye better than cellulose fibers).
The wool locks took the dye more evenly than thread/yarn and fabric (thus the saying, “dyed in the wool!”).
Weld is my favorite dye! It’s reliable and consistent.
For the madder, I should have used 50-100% WOG with the ammonia immediately added to get a stronger red (I want to do a dye experiment focused solely on madder now, playing with pH and dye exhaust!).
The madder and weld is kind of an ugly rusty orange that I don’t like very much.
I love the color I got from cochineal, but I went completely overkill on the percentage and overpowered the weld overdye (however, there was still a subtle difference!).
When you iron cochineal, it turns lavender (until it cools off and returns to the original color)
I think I overdid the Synthrapol rinse on the indigo, but proving that will require more indigo dyeing.
The yellow tips on the wool locks absorb the dye less evenly. The most significant example of this was on the cochineal/indigo locks: the main body of the lock was purple, but the tip remained deep magenta!
In May 2017, right before I joined the SCA, I purchased my first-ever fleece at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I chose a pretty Romney with long locks and nice crimp, and decided to wash it lock-by-lock. However, when I washed it, I noticed that most of the locks had at least an inch of canary stains (yellowing that weakens the fibers starting at the tips). I decided that I should try dyeing it for tapestry, but because of that decision, it sat in storage for two years.
Fast-forward to May 2019, when I took a natural dyeing class at Maryland Sheep and Wool, and I decided it was time to finish processing that fleece (which gave me an excuse to buy another while I was there). With the help of some Dawn soap, tap-hot water, an assembly-line-style set-up, and a three-day weekend in the fall, I finally got the whole fleece washed and stored.
In fall 2019, I wanted to improve my embroidery, so I drew a knotwork design that I decided to fill using a combination of satin stitch and split stitch. It’s still in progress, as knotwork takes a long time!
For the second year in a row, I was proud to be a member of the Ottoman Mehter Takımı, or Janissary Band, at Pennsic. I was also asked to put together a display of the band’s material culture for the Known World A&S Display. I enjoyed coordinating it, and writing the materials allowed me to learn even more about the Mehteran! In this post, I’ve included photographs of the display and of my new uniform. After the cut is the display’s sign text.
Many thanks to Maggie Hays for the photos of the display below. It was rather hard to photograph, as it was long (two tables!) and tall (standards and flags!).
For my efforts in the A&S display, I was named an onbaşı (corporal) in September 2019.
As part of my individual efforts, I made a new uniform that was much more accurate than the one I wore in 2018.
For my new uniform, I made a new red coat, kaftan, pants, turban, and cross-body bag. Because I was making these close to Pennsic, most items were machine-sewn; however, I hand-finished the coat. I also made some prayer beads as an accessory to hang from my sash (and fiddle with while we were waiting to march!). I’m really happy with my uniform now, but for the next march I plan to update my hat (time for a historically accurate one — read below!) and my yellow sash (it’s just too flimsy.)
In Spring/Summer 2019 my friend Adelaide decided it was finally time to tackle a project she’d been wanting to do: a genderbent, period-accurate outfit based on Disney’s Rapunzel. As a knitter, I immediately volunteered to knit her a flat cap and garters. I was not particularly good at taking photos of my work before passing it off to Adelaide, but luckily our friend Kaaren Valravn took an excellent photo of Adelaide in the garb this fall where the garters and hat are perfectly visible.
In the summer of 2019, I went on a small jewellery/beading jag.
Left, top to bottom: necklace that doubles as circlet made of amber on beader’s wire; amber drop earrings; glass bead swag with removable beads (cord is beader’s wire with silver beads); amber and copper bead swag on beader’s wire for Old English garb (with brooches). These are all for wearing with my Old English garb.
Right, left to right: Pearl-and-amber paternoster on silk with silk tassel; green-stone-and-amber paternoster on cotton with cotton tassel; green stone prayer beads on cotton with cotton tassel. The first two paternosters are to wear with my 14th-century garb, while the prayer beads are for my Ottoman garb.
For my third-ever tapestry project (the other two done before I joined the SCA), I went a little overboard: I wanted to weave a bag for my spinning wheel with my device on one side. After an entertaining discussion at my local shire meeting, I decided to add a motto on the other: tanta oves, paucas tempus (so many sheep, so little time).
Pattern & Design
For the pattern, I wanted to weave the bag in one piece so that I all I had to do was fold and sew it. I also gave it multiple straps to hang it from my wheel, plus straps with buttons to close it.
I created the designs on my computer, as I had already drawn a digital version of my device. I also had some good fonts to use as a jumping-off point for the text. I printed these out and used them as a cartoon behind the loom, though I did Sharpie some spots on the warp to assist in alignment.
Materials & Process
I used my vertical tapestry table loom for this project. Because of the bag layout, the pattern was woven so that the warp ran vertically in the final product, as opposed to horizontally (as in period). I was determined to weave from my yarn stash, so my warp was a midweight cotton and my weft was a worsted-weight knitting wool. Because the straps were woven in, so were the buttonholes. The buttons were leftover ones that I made out of Sculpey for a baby sweater; I sewed them on at the end.
The choice of warp and weft led to the greatest issue with the tapestry, which could modernly be called “pixelization.” Because my gauge was large by my pattern had some finer details and many curves, the final product ended up less smooth than I wanted. This was also my most complicated tapestry so far (horses are notoriously hard in art!), so I learned a lot from these challenges! Also, I totally went overkill on straps.
Progress Photos & Final Project
Overall, I’m happy with the bag. It fits on my wheel and holds all my bobbins plus my niddy-noddy, diz, and some wool. It doesn’t interfere with carrying the wheel, either! Finally, I learned so much from this project that I know my next tapestry will be leaps and bounds better.
In early 2019, I finally finished my first-ever 15th-century fitted and self-supporting dress. Described in reenactment circles as a “Gothic fitted dress” or GFD, mine was inspired by a fieldhand in June page from the Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry: