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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
8 yards + 1 yard plied
32 yards (7.1 grams)
Black (weft & cords)
114 yards (127 grams)
14 yards (1.42 grams)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
And, because I’m extra, I covered up the applique stitches with chain stitch embroidery on the reverse/wrong side.
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.
So things kept happening to get in the way of my properly apprenticing to Ollam Lanea (rainstorms, commitments, a pandemic), so when we finally were able to set a firm date, I lost my mind a little and decided to make her a gift for The Occasion. I decided to make her a book. Not any book — a book that contained two of her pieces, two of mine, and some other important items. Since I chose poems that incorporated our languages, I decided they had to be properly glossed. This is literally my third piece of calligraphy ever, my second with a proper pen, and I learned to bookbind over the summer by half-watching a dozen random YouTube videos. And because I knew Lanea would get a kick out of it, instead of documentation, I wrote a library catalog entry. I told you I lost my mind.
The Catalog Entry
Teach Folcadáin Bó Caitlin MS Ripton A.i
Inconsistently dated to both ~800 and 2021 (?)
The Apprentice’s Manuscript
The present volume contains 4 poems and some additional back matter (a short verse and a single sentence). Two poems, On Kings (ff. 2r-8v) and Song of Amergin (ff. 24r-29v) have been glossed by the original scribe. The glossing of On Kings indicates that the scribe was familiar with the language and attempted to keep a poetic translation in the gloss. However, they also excluded words that were the same in both texts, making it difficult to reconstruct the gloss’s original form. Inaccuracies in the glossing of Song of Amergin indicate that the scribe was not familiar with the language; E. Meredith (2021) has suggested that the scribe was attempting to combine two texts with only the vaguest understanding of Celtic languages.
ff. 2r-8v: On Kings
ff. 9r-15r: On Returning Home
ff. 18r-22v: You Call Yourselves Bards?
ff. 24r-29v: Song of Amergin
f. 31r: Gawain and the Green Knight (?) excerpt
f. 32v: Back matter
Decoration: 5 illuminations, of a horse between three lozenges (f. 1r), a bird (f. 16r), a raven on a pall between three Brigid’s crosses (f. 17r), a great black dog (f. 23r), and a golden winged shoe (f. 30r). There are additional small decorations throughout, most significantly a decorated O on f. 18v.
Irish, Old (?)
Materials: Pergamenata, Noodler’s Eel Black, Koh-I-Noor watercolor, FineTec gold and silver.
Dimensions: approximately 90 x 70 mm. No indication of trimming.
Foliation: ff. 32. There is one modern foliation sequence in the manuscript in pencil.
Layout: written in one column of four or eight lines to a page. All four-line pages contain glosses in a different language.
Script: Half-uncial. While the hand has similarities to the Book of Kells, as do some of the illuminations, the number of errors and uneven lines indicate an inexperienced scribe deeply in over their head.
Binding: Rebound in the first quarter of the 21st century by an enthusiastic amateur using green silk thread, cardboard, linen, leather, and PVA glue.
Unknown; bears indicators of both 8th/9th-century Hiberno-Saxon traditions (especially Northumbrian) and 21st-century Nacirema techniques from Piscataway Nation territory.
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 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.
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.
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.
By this point, I had decided to name the lyre Fiffaru, which translates to Five Calamities (from fifand 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:
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.
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.
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!
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.