2020 Secret Shiremate Gifts

In December 2020, Korrin Valravn arranged a “Secret Shiremate” exchange for our shire. I was excited to receive Ollam Ruaidhri an Cu, a lovely man, dear friend, and fellow bard, as my secret shiremate. We had four exchanges, and in no particular order, I wanted to share three of the things that I made (the fourth were cookies, and there is no evidence left of them).

Ollam Ruaidhri is a generous and crafty person, so I wove multiple yardages of inkle weaving, for him to use or gift (or both) as he saw fit.

The final bands are silk in shire colors (white and green), a semi-symmetrical narrrow weave in wool, a wide and long asymmetrical weave in wool, and a symmetrical weave in wool. I used some of the same wools in all three woolen weaves, which was a fun way to demonstrate the different effects you could create based on warping patterns.

In the survey we had to fill out, Ruaidhri also indicated that he did not have a shire token (!!) and that he liked practical items that fit in a pouch. Obviously, the answer was that he needed handkerchiefs with the shire populace badge.

The handkerchiefs are hand-hemmed linen embroidered with silk. I tried two different techniques for these to create both an outlined and a filled-in badge.

Finally, Ollam Ruaidhri has a wonderful dog named Zeus, so I had to do a small illumination of the lovely fellow. I adapted folio 19r from the Aberdeen Bestiary.

Here are some progress photos:

The Great 2020 Dyeing Project (Fade Test Part 2)


December 31, 2020 marked one year since I began the Great 2020 Dyeing Project Fade Test (which also had a small sidequest of the Madder Adventure), which meant it was time to take down the final fade swatches and process them! For the dyegoods, dyestuffs, dyeing combinations, fiber preparation, and dyeing methods that were involved in preparing for this year-long fade test, please see Part 1.

The final dates for the fade tests shifted only slightly from my original plan:

  • One week: June 19 – June 26 (originally planned June 13 – June 20 or June 20 – June 27; I split the difference due to the weather around that time)
  • One month: June 1 –  June 30 (no shift)
  • Three months: April 26 – July 26 (shifted by two days)
  • Six months: March 16 – September 16 (shifted by one day)
  • One year:  January 1 – December 31 (no shift)

My test of the canary-stained wool (using yarn spun from the yellow tips versus yarn spun from the white roots) lasted three months. I also kept a control swatch of each color and material in a dark place. All the swatches were faded in a south-east facing window for their duration.


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“Gawain and the Green Knight” in Middle English

For a long time I’ve wanted to make reading Gawain and the Green Knight into an annual tradition around the New Year, as the poem itself is placed around the New Year.

However, 2020 was a long year, so I wanted to share it with others. At the beginning of the panic I read the entirety of Beowulf in Old English via impromptu streams on Facebook. This time, for Gawain, I made a long recording in garb (with new appropriate accessories!) and premiered it on New Year’s Eve and New Year Day. The videos are permanently on YouTube, so you can watch the whole playlist here or watch the videos via the embeds below.

Total 2020 Yardage = 5179

In 2020, I spun 5,179 yards.

This is almost, but not quite, everything

Yup. I spun nearly 3 miles of yarn. When accounting for the fact that half the skeins are two-ply, half are singles, and one skein was chain plied, I actually spun 10655 yards, or over six miles. This includes the merino that I spun and used for the madder adventure. Almost all of the yarn is pictured above, excepting a skein that I gifted, and it took up almost half of my bed (I had to stand on a footstool for the picture).

Wool breeds include merino, Dorset horn, Shropshire, Jacob, and some unidentified breeds. Blends included merino/silk and wool/bamboo/silk. A lot of the spinning was from roving, but the entire bottom row in the picture, the madder-dyed merino, and a handful of other skeins were hand-processed from fleece (about half also washed or re-washed by me).

Oh, and this isn’t actually all of 2020 — it’s just what I counted since March.

Honestly, I’m impressed with myself.

Hood and Sleeves from ~1400

Displaying the accessories: a fashionable hood and sleeves

On occasion, I like to play around with 1350s-1425 England and France, and for New Year, I decided I wanted to record a reading of Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English… but I didn’t have winter-appropriate garb. However, I had a little more of a yard of navy blue linen, and I had some leftover madder-red wool from Ysabeau’s cloak, so it was time to make some accessories!

Ms. fr. 119, folio 354v
Buttons and buttonhole close-up

For the hood, I was inspired by a hood from a manuscript of the Prose Lancelot (Fonds Français 119, folio 354v). The woman wears a fashionable madder-red hood that projects forth from her face; I was a particular fan of the crazy-long liripipe. My pattern was modeled from a similar linen hood I made in a class several years ago, with adjustments based on advise from The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant  by Sarah Thursfield. All seams were hand-sewn with wool. Since the wool is tightly fulled, the edges are left raw, and I didn’t flatfell the seams. The liripipe was a particular challenge, as it was a tight pieced tube; instead of having a lumpy end, I simply cut the tip and left it raw.

Finished hood with crazy-long liripipe and a fashionable pewter badge

This was also my first time making  self-stuffed buttons, which with the thick wool was a challenge. I used silk thread to initially gather the buttons, as silk was stronger than my wool thread (which liked to break), but I finished each button and sewed it on with wool.

I discovered through the process that I quite enjoy making buttonholes! These were also a learning experience (I don’t remember the last time I handsewed one — if ever?), but each was a delight, and by the end they were getting pretty even.

Atlantian Spike and Roxbury Mill millcross

Other women in the same mansucript as my hood inspiration are wearing overdresses with short sleeves and long, knuckle-length undersleeves, which encouraged me to match the hood with some false sleeves. When I first bought this navy blue linen, I knew I wanted to make some Atlantian pride sleeves with spikes, so I also cut stamps for the first time! I used a Speedball lino cutting tool and carving block, which while not historically accurate are very user-friendly. I drew and cut an Atlantian Spike, and I also cut a millcross for my shire (for future usage); enjoying it way too much, I cut a second mirror-image Spike so I could print alternating Spikes.

Test prints on cardstock with acrylic paint

This was my first time printing fabric, and I have limited space, so there was some entertaining layouts on a bedroom floor with a yoga mat, towels, and way too many paper towels. I initially wanted to use silver paint, but the silver paint wasn’t pigmented enough to print clearly (and on a white linen test print ended up a dingy gray). After some trial and error, I landed on an undiluted white acrylic craft paint; I tried mixing the paint with a fabric medium, but it did not give a clear print. My printing wasn’t particularly consistent, but drastically improved in the process, and I’m looking forward to showing people where my printing experience began and ended while wearing these sleeves!

In making up the sleeves, I half-lined them just past the planned buttons so that I would have a contrast color when turning back the long cuffs. I cut them so that the cuffs just reach my knuckles, which is consistent with other sleeves I saw in the manuscript. The buttons are (appropriately) Spike buttons that were favors from previous A&S displays and competition, and I again enjoyed making buttonholes way too much. The linen was sewn and flatfelled with cotton, but the buttonholes were sewn with linen thread (the buttons were also sold on with linen). The final sleeves are skin-tight, and make me feel very fashionable!

Ugly Bands

In 2020, I started inkle weaving what I called “ugly bands.” This is a bit of a joke, as the work is actually quite attractive. However, I named them “ugly bands” because a significant amount of the warp is always yarn that was less-than-attractive in the skein form, whether it was a random color combination from a blending experiment, an uneven spin from a demo, or some chaotic combo of both. I combined these with a solid-colored narrower warp to unify the bands, and they all came out absolutely lovely. In the future, I hope to give these as gifts and largesse.

The Great 2020 Dyeing Project (The Madder Adventure)

The product of madder, water, wool, and time

Remember those 1272 yards of merino I spun? Well, after I finished spinning it, August was the time for its destiny: the Madder Adventure!

Fiber Preparation

Two lots drying after dyeing

Since I knew madder has a number of exhaust stages (and I wanted to see how many exhaust baths I could get), I divided the 1272 yards (320 grams) into 11 lots of 100 yards (25 grams) plus one lot of 172 yards.

I cold-mordanted the 100 yard lots in 8% alum and 7% cream of tartar (Note: all percentages are a percentage of the weight of goods being dyed). I set aside remaining 172 yards as an unmordanted, undyed control.

The madder I used for all these tests was pre-ground raw goods.

Round One: Clarifying Madder

Lots from the clarified bath
Lots from the “tea”-style extraction

The method: In previous dyeing projects, I had used too little madder to get a rich red, so I decided to use 100% WOG for this test. However, I had also read that madder would be more of an orange-red if not “clarified” (steeped and poured off). For that reason, I made a “tea” with the madder: I steeped the dyestuff in boiling water for 2 minutes and then poured it off into a pot. I repeated this once, and then used the remaining dye for my main dye bath. However, I also used the dye that was first extracted for a bath, giving me two dye baths. The dyestuff was removed before adding the yarn to the baths. All the goods were at minimum cold-dyed for 24 hours; many were heated or at least left in the hot summer sun for most of the day.

The results: The clarified bath only lasted for three rounds (two exhausts), while the “tea”-style extraction lasted for five (four exhausts). While the lots dyed in the extraction definitely have more orange tones to them, the red is also richer; the lots from the clarified dye, while less orange and more pink, are also less saturated.

All lots together

Round Two: Playing with pH

Mini-skeins get dyed in steins! Alkaline bath on the left, acidic bath on the right.

Since I had 300 already-mordanted yards of merino left, and I knew that madder reacts in interesting way to pH changes, I decided to do a smaller pH test. In order to have more skeins for exhaust, I broke my yarn down into smaller lots of 20 yards (5 grams).

First lot results: acid, neutral, alkaline (L-R)

Dye and pH: I used 5 grams of madder in single-use tea bags, putting three packets together so that I could have acidic, neutral, and alkaline dye baths. To shift the pH, I used white vinegar for my acid and household ammonia for my alkaline. I aimed for pH 3 for my acidic bath, ~7 for my neutral bath (roughly my water’s regular pH), and ~10 for my alkaline bath.

I went through a lot of pH test strips during this experiment, as I tested the water of every dyebath at the beginning and end of each lot, at minimum.

As I was dyeing, I discovered I was having difficulty with the alkaline slowly shifting to neutral during the process. I believe this is because the cream of tartar in the mordant is an acid, and it started to neutralize the alkaline as the yarn was dyed.

L to R: alkaline, neutral, acid

Results: I was incredibly surprised by the results! I was able to get three lots (two exhausts) out of each dye pot. While there were minimal differences between the first lot in the alkaline and the neutral (possibly due to the interference from the cream of tartar in the mordant), the differences really showed up in the exhausts. Because the first alkaline lot presumably absorbed more of the red parts of the dye, the exhausts were primarily creamy-yellows. The neutral had brownish-orange exhausts, while the acid (having absorbed more of the yellow in the first lot) had pinker exhausts. I quite like the pink exhausts, so there may be a number of bright orange-reds in my future, too!

Round Three: Some Weird Lots

By this point, I had done two experiments and still had 120 yards of mordanted yarn left — and already broken into 20 yard lots!

So, I dumped the remainder of the pH tests together, without adjusting  the pH (it came out to 5 when I tested at the beginning). I only tracked one specific skein, though I used a couple to absorb the remaining dye; this gave me a red that was unsurprisingly close to my first neutral pH lot.

I also had frozen the dye packets from the original clarified madder tests. With these, I simmered them in pH-neutral water and chucked a small skein in, leaving the dye in during the whole dyeing process. I also originally shifted the pH to 11; pH had shifted to 8 by the end, but I ran out of ammonia for the second lot, so it slowly shifted back to neutral. This gave me a rich salmon pink.

Projects and Records

First warp on the loom!
First warp in progress!

Of course, since I had spent so much time processing, spinning, and dyeing this wool, I also had to do something with it. So I inkle-wove two belts!

Both belts are woven with just the yarn from round one (clarified and tea-style extraction), as I had the greatest yardage of these. For the first belt, I did a gradient of light-to-light, with the darks in the middle(ish), with each band separated with a strand of white. For the second belt, I did a dark-to-dark gradient without separations, edged in white.

Finally, I used these experiments as an opportunity to test my planned format for the Great 2020 Dyeing Project Fade Test. I created a grid with the different dyeing experiments and exhausts with a space for a picture of the yarn surrounded by a border of color sampled from the dye lot itself; it also includes the hex code of that sampled color.

If you would like a PDF copy of this image, you can download it here.

A Mantle and a Poem for Iselda

Iselda during court, having received the mantle.

When I found out that Iselda de Narbonne was going to receive her Laurel, I may have demanded to make her mantle. I don’t know. It’s all a little fuzzy.

Due to life, the timeline on construction got a little tight, so the foundation seams were all machine sewn. However, every single visible stitch was hand-sewn, and the applique and beads were done entirely by hand. The fabric and thread is 100% silk. Every fabric used is a two-tone that shimmers when in motion, some more subtly than others. The pearls are glass Swarovski pearls.

I was asked to say something about the mantle as it was presented to her, but initially all I could think of was “A badass bard deserves a badass mantle, and I hope this makes you cry.” However, inspiration struck two nights beforehand, so I wrote her a poem that I read:

From sweet soil sprouts the laurel,
But limbs and leaves with labor grow
dewy drupes. Devotion and time
Furnished fruits fair to the ear,
Foliate and flourishing, brought forth
Verdant voices in choral concordance.
Now a mantle marks the mastership attained
Proclaims to peers: perceive this Laurel
with seeds of song to sow and nourish.
Amang ic seowede nihtlang ic sticode me foroft.
Æt þære wæfersyne wundormentles, þīn wopdropum ic ahope.

The last two lines, in Old English, translate directly to “While I sewed through the night, I stabbed myself often. At the spectacle of the wonder-mantle, I hope for your tears.” In other words, “I hope it makes you cry.”

Back of collar detail.

Center bottom border detail

Draped on a chair, from the back.

Draped on a chair, from the front.
Folded in half, draped on a sofa. Yes, it’s huge.
Iselda displaying the back after court.
Iselda displaying the front after court.

Spinning Merino

Several years ago, my friend Liz passed a washed merino fleece off to me. During summer 2020, I decided to finish processing it and spin it. The staple was quite short, so I decided to card it into rolags. Carding was a little difficult, because I didn’t have the right density of teeth in my cards, but by the end my rolags were looking pretty nice. I spun the rolags using a short forward draw, because it gave me a lot of control over the really short fibers.

The washed fleece (ignore the See’s candy in the background).

Pretty rolags and singles.

Finished singles.

1272 yards of finished, plied laceweight yarn.

Once the yarn was finished, I decided it was the perfect amount to split into smaller skeins for my madder dyeing adventure (coming soon!).