Category: England

Fiffaru, the Disaster Lyre

This is the story of the Five Calamities of Fiffaru, the Disaster Lyre.

In 2019, my friend Mattheus Dupuy showed up to a local practice with a Germanic lyre. He let me noodle on it, and I instantly fell in love. After letting me borrow his lyre for a bit, he offered to help me build an Oberflacht lyre using instructions from Michael J. King — my first woodworking project! In a day of woodworking, we managed to get the crosspiece cut, the body shaped, and over half of the soundbox hollowed out. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the router slipped and cut a large curve in the back before we noticed. This was the First Calamity. After talking about hollowing the whole thing out and slapping on a backpiece, we broke for the day.

The half-hollowed lyre, with the hole near the bottom solid section.

The lyre sat in my garage for nearly two years. With the plague marching the lands, I didn’t have access to the tools to finish it, and over winter I didn’t have a warm space to work on it, either. Then warm weather hit, vaccinations were imminent, and I felt the need to get this sucker done. I had an electrical drill, a coping saw, and pure stubbornness. I had neither a workbench nor wisdom. Despite this, over a weekend I managed to get the majority of the body cut out via strategic drilling and very difficult sawing. Unfortunately, as I started to hollow closer to the lyre’s arms, the lyre cracked where the two arms met. This was the Second Calamity.

Right before it cracked (yes, I was using a cardboard box to drill into)

I decided to peg and glue the headpiece when this happened, to provide stability (since I didn’t have a proper dowel to peg it with, I sliced up an old bamboo knitting needle). I spent a long time trying to find the best glue for the job, but I couldn’t find any recommendations, so I settled on standard wood glue. After finishing the headpiece, I glued the break, clamped it all tightly, and left it for a week or so.

Because I had limited tools and the structure had already been compromised, I decided to simply even out the hollowing and not even attempt to make the front and back boards flush with the frame.

The finished frame and soundboards, ready for gluing

I used wood glue to attach the soundboards, pressed the whole thing with some handweights, and let it dry.

Around this time is when I discovered the Third Calamity: mismatched holes. I had planned for a six-string lyre. Mattheus gifted me a bridge of bog oak for six strings, as well as a horn tailpiece, which I drilled for six strings. But I did my math wrong, and drilled only five holes in the headpiece, with no space to cram in a sixth. Luckily, I could skip one slot on the bridge, and I was able to fit a seventh hole on the tailpiece so that the strings could still be roughly equally-spaced. Thus, the lyre became a pentatonic lyre by accident.

This was not the only issue involving the pegs. I didn’t drill the whole way through, as I didn’t want them to be visible from the back; however, I made some of the pegs too shallow, and the leftmost one in particular had trouble going in. So, I decided to deepen some of the holes — and promptly went through the back on the leftmost. I managed to not do that on the other four, but this was still the Fourth Calamity.

Before stringing, I wanted to apply a finish. However, I couldn’t find any reccomendations for a finish that were newbie-friendly and non-combustible (hi, linseed oil!), so I decided to just use a mix of mineral oil and beeswax, which I already had on hand for wooden chopping boards.

Finally, it was time for stringing! I had purchased a bunch of guitar string sets, so I chose the best selection of nylon strings from those. I was a little at a loss for how to attach the tailpiece, but other lyres I had used employed either fishing line, fake sinew, or plastic-wrapped wire. I had some of the latter available, so I strung it up, but upon tensioning the strings this snapped, being sliced through by the horn tailpiece (the Fifth Calamity). I tried a few fixes, then took some files to the holes and smoothed them out. I no longer trusted the wire, though, so I wrapped part of the tailpiece holes with silk thread and fingerloop braided a tie. It held.

Fiffaru’s final form!

By this point, I had decided to name the lyre Fiffaru, which translates to Five Calamities (from fif and fær, which pluralizes to faru). Despite being the Disaster Lyre, it sounds pretty good! While I don’t have a performance video of this, please enjoy the first recorded noodling upon it:

 

Overall, I’m quite proud of Fiffaru, and its name is rather tongue-in-cheek. This was my first woodworking project, and my first instrument! At the end, I have a pretty beautiful instrument that sounds nice and will hold up well as it’s dragged to events, and because of the calamities I now have a dedicated pentatonic lyre. It’s an overall win!

Finally, in addition to the plans from Michael J. King, I found a few additional websites useful:

First Calligraphy

Layout and practice

I was so excited to do calligraphy for the first time! I calligraphed a beautiful scroll blank by Adelaide Halfpint inspired by the Ormesby Psalter (1250-1330).
While I had practiced a similar script (Batarde), I practiced the script from the Ormesby Psalter for this scroll, meaning that I learned a new hand for my first calligraphy! I used standard scroll text, as I didn’t want to hyperfocus on my own words the first time I calligraphed something.

 

Scroll being presented in court. Photograph by Kolfinna Valravn.

 

A Poem from the Populace for Hakon hábrok

When Hakon hábrok was placed on vigil to consider joining the Order of the Chivalry, I joined the Worthies to speak as a member of the populace. I was deeply honored to be asked to deliver this speech, and since Hakon is also a bard, I had to give it in verse. The verse itself is fairly loose Old English alliterative verse; I played with both line-length and alliterative structure to best suit the message.

Text

From Ealawynn Maeru,        alias Ela –
Gracious greetings,     guests and friends.
Peers do plead   their pieces of wisdom,
but I proclaim proudly          for the populace.
What should the chivalry     show us in deeds?
What weighs more worthy  than wielding arms,
swift swords       swinging ably,
all adversaries     overwhelmed in battle?
No – a knight      must be more—
prowess is purely         part of the whole.
So what should the chivalry show us in deeds?
Listen, with silent lips and unlocked ears.
Contemplate, consider,        and consult counsel;
weigh wisdom    and wield caution.
Ignore self-interest;     favor insight—
then speak, and lead.
This calling of chivalry is an arduous quest.
Many folk fail     this formidable task.
But Hakon hábrok       holds these!
Contemplation, counsel,      consideration, and discernment:
if these uncommon attributes      are the essence of chivalry,
then I call Hákon hábrok      “knight.”
Elevate him         to that order promptly.
The populace praises it        as proper and just.

Video

“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.

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!

A Poem and a Card

Wrote a poem! Did my first calligraphy! Threw in some illumination from the Book of Kells!

I was sick so the poem wasn’t as dramatic as I wanted it to be and the whole thing was late!

Text:

To Cuan, king of      considerable worth:
Your bard begs you     a brief moment
of time, attention,     tolerance, and reprieve.
A report of a birthday     reached my ears–
so a chronicle I conceive     for the King of Atlantia,
a poem of his prowess,     praising his might
with words of wisdom     to warn and advise,
extolling the integrity     of one .viii. times a king.
But unbidden, an illness     attacked my form,
muddled my mind     and mystified my pen.
Now my reason returns,     revived and hale,
But the moment is missed!     Mournfully thus
I weakly write     a wish, with all goodwill
of a belated birthday     from your King’s Bard.

Translation for Mistress Rosalind

Calligraphed version courtesy of Mistress Rosalind

Before Gideon ap Stephen was Laurelled at Ymir 2020, Mistress Rosalind asked me to translate the poem she had written to release Gideon from his apprenticeship into Old English. I happily did so — I love translations and find it a great challenge! Below is the text that I sent her; I also sent her a (very rough) recording for pronunciation. While I usually don’t use ċ (/ch/) or ġ (/j/) in my translations as they are entirely a modern conceit for transcription, I included them here to help indicate the pronunciation differences from c (/k/) and g (/g/) for performance.

Original Translation
Gideon ap Stephen     great of heart Gideon ap Stephen     great in breostsefan
A word-warrior     for the Knowne World Cyneword-ċempa     for þære cuþre worulde
Famed for ferocity     in defense of humble folk Rof for reþnesse     in randġebeorh eadmede-folces
Awesome of hair     a voice ocean-deep Seldlic in feaxe     stefn ġeofon-sidu
In prose and poetry     you have shown your prowess þurh wordcræft ond woþcræft     þin ġewald þu ġeseþe
Our path together     of time and travel Ure gomenwaþu to-gædere     on geongum ond byrum
Late night counsel     creation and craft Nihtlangum leoþurunum     listum ond sceaftum
We, your mentors     you, a man of our houses Wit, þin rædboran,     þu, reord-berend unċer inhireda
Now ends your oath     of fealty to us Nu endaþ þin aþ     to us of heldan
We take back the belt     once gladly bestowed Wit oþfeorraþ þone fetel     fore fuslice ġelacodon
But our heart-bond     can never be broken Ac ure breostsefa-bend     ne abirsteþ næfre

 

Translation Translator’s Notes Regarding Particular Choices
Gideon ap Stephen     great in breostsefan Breostsefa  = mind or heart, literally “the mind in the breast”
Cyneword-cempa     for þære cuþre worulde Cyneword-cempa = champion of fitting words
Rof for reþnesse     in randgebeorh eadmede-folces Randgebeorh = protection such as that afforded by a shield
Seldlic in feaxe     stefn geofon-sidu Seldlic = rare, strange, wondrous, extraordinary, having unusual good qualities
Sid = wide, broad, spacious, and is specifically usually applied to the ocean, world, and universe
þurh wordcræft ond woþcræft     þin gewald þu geseþe Syntax of second half-line is “your prowess you show”
wordcræft = the art of speaking and writing
woþcræft = the art of poetry or song
gewald = power, mastery (I chose it for the latter meaning)
Ure gomenwaþu to-gædere     on geongum ond byrum Syntax of second half-line is “of travels and times”; I chose to make plural because there was presumably more than one
Byre has many meanings, but I particularly like the translation of “an event, a favourable time, an opportunity”
Nihtlangum leoþurunum     listum ond sceaftum Syntax of second half-line is “craft and creation”
nihtlang = night-long
leoþurun = counsel conveyed in verse (I thought this meaning was appropriate!)
list = art, skill, cunning, craft, artifice
Wit, þin rædboran,     þu, reord-berend uncer inhireda Wit = dual for Mistress Rosalind and Master Dunstan
reord-berend = fig. person/man, lit. voice-bearer/one gifted with speech
in-hired = family, household, house (I liked the triple meaning)
Nu endaþ þin aþ     to us of heldan
Wit oþfeorraþ þone fetel     fore fuslice gelacodon
Ac ure breostsefa-bend     ne abirsteþ næfre Repeating breostsefa from the beginning