Finding north

I wrote this a few months back, and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since because I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it.

I went to a household gathering last week, the first gathering of the clan since Battlemoor of last year. (I didn’t go to Battlemoor this year, for a whole host of reasons that center on time, money, and emotional energy.) And I had a wonderful time, and I’m so glad I went, but I also found myself at one point just sitting in the dark empty back yard sobbing my head off.

I’ve been out of the game for so long. I feel so out of touch. There are new people coming up, doing amazing work and getting attention from the peer community, who I’ve never met. There are people who’ve been friends with my friends for twenty years, who’ve moved into kingdom from elsewhere or begun playing again while I’ve been out of the game, there have been divorces and remarriages while I’ve been gone, there are all of these new faces in what I think of as my established social circles. The children are all a foot taller than when I saw them last. I feel so lost.

Here’s the thing:

If I had been elevated before I was ready, I could have taken some time to process and reflect and figure out what that was going to mean for me and embrace my peerage in my own time.

If Juan had died, I could have picked up the pieces and moved on with the help of my friends and chosen family.

If I had started grad school, I could have put my SCA life on hold and come back to it as though I’d never left.

If I had moved to a new group, I could have connected with friends in the new place and found my feet pretty quickly.

But for all four of these things to happen at once –

The game as I knew it is gone forever; there is no coming back from that. There is only moving forward.

And as I can see the end of grad school from where I’m sitting, as I think about what life after graduation looks like and where the SCA fits into that and what I want to do with my SCA life – and I just don’t know.

I’ve simultaneously changed kingdoms and taken a break before, but that didn’t come with the attendant pressure of coming back as a peer. In fact at that time I was specifically and intentionally presenting myself as a new arrival, someone very conscious of not knowing the terrain. I can’t do that anymore.

As long as I couldn’t figure out how to finish that post, I couldn’t bring myself to update this blog at all, because I wasn’t going to let it turn into a series of unfinished ideas and whinging and unproductive navelgazing. I wasn’t going to talk until I had something to say or some idea of where the SCA fits into my future or whether there is any point in continuing to document this journey at all.

Somehow, in the intervening time since I started that post, I’ve begun to make sense of it.

At that time I was more or less going on momentum, trying to continue to do and enjoy the things that we did together, and it wasn’t working. It brought me no joy and just made me lonely and sad and confused. I’m beginning to understand that I cannot live my life exactly as it was when he was here, except with the big gaping hole where he used to be. I can’t fill that hole.

It’s strange to say I’ve only just begun to grieve, two and a half years on, but in some ways it’s true. The first year I was just too shattered to do anything except keep my head above water – stay employed, stay in school, pay the bills, survive. The second year I was consumed by a frighteningly black depression. It’s only now that I’m starting to actually do stuff, I’m figuringing out how to hold space for memory and legacy and continuing to do the things I used to enjoy in Juan’s company and continuing to bring to life some of the plans that we made, within the framework of something new and different.

I’ve been waiting for that to take shape, and I think it has. I have a new, big, forever kind of project, the kind of project that has the potential to hold my interest and generate a constant flow of smaller projects for the rest of my life. Something that he would have adored if we’d ever gotten around to it, that we danced around the edges of, but was not actually part of our life together in a significant way.

I’ve been possessed, recently, of a fascination with moveable type, printing, and Renaissance book arts, and particularly the spread of printed literature in vernacular languages and art printmaking across Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

I’ve been circling on this for a long time.

I’ve played around with block printing for years, probably decades. I took an history of incunabula class in grad school that I loved madly, and I did bookbinding in college, and of course I’ve done C&I for a few years now too. I got very deeply into papermaking for about a year and a half… twenty years ago? More? I always wanted to get back to it and never did. I love books as objects, I love typography, I love slow fussy detail processes, I love everything that goes into this. I can put all the late-period Spanish knowledge I acquired to use. I can make useful things. I can teach. 

One of my dearest friends started talking about this on Facebook, and a bunch of us who have all had this sort of ambient, latent interest in the subject for a long time said hell yes! in one voice, and formed a working group, and have been geeking on it for about two months now. And with this one thing, it all came back. I’m interested again, in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time. I’m making garb. I’m going to events. I’m talking to people and making plans. I have points of navigation again.




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Upcoming costuming/personal kit projects

Post-Battlemoor brain dumping, mainly for my own reference. Other stuff will get added to this as I think of it, I’m sure.

Deadlined projects:

Sposa Dantiscana II – Outlands Fall Coronation (November)

  • base dress
  • undersleeves
  • oversleeves
  • opashen
  • repair/refit late-period corset
  • hat

Expanded Qipchaq kit – Gulf Wars

  • Green and gold brocade coat, lined in green silk
  • Blue and gold silk coat, lined in gold linen
  • yellow silk undertunic
  • grey linen undertunic
  • embellish existing linen lightweight coats
  • black silk pants
  • cone hat
  • gather existing metal bits and buy more to build pectoral ornament

Quiver – next Battlemoor

Open projects:

Blue shawl

Knife and belt sheath

Black late-period skirt

Repair Juan’s two late-period shirts (closures, small tear on unembellished shirt)

Finish prettying up the late-period working-class Italian, possibly refit

Sort, repair, and milieu-tag every individual piece of jewelry I own, make a list for each milieu for which I have a partial kit, identify gaps, and complete at least one tight, solid daywear kit, one court kit other than the big elevation Letgalian kit, and one late-period kit that can go with Italian or Spanish.

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I wasn’t sure I was going to Battlemoor this year; it was hard, both emotionally and logistically, and sad and scary.

Of course I went. Of course I had a wonderful time. I had no plans, I had no commitments, and so I was able to spend the entire war (or at least my three days of it) just talking to people, walking, looking at the stars (god, I miss the stars), laughing, holding my apprentice sister’s baby, petting dogs, sharing food and drink. I spent the entirety of Sunday, except for a little bit of shopping, in camp, noshing and day drinking and conversing deeply about SCA philosophy and love of the game and plans for the future, and it was glorious.

And I realize: part of why I’ve been feeling so at loose ends, out of place and lost, is because I’m not doing anything. The SCA is all about the doing. If I’m not researching something, planning and executing something, helping someone else execute something, making something, or practicing something, I’m not playing.

It’s not just since I moved to Denver, although my malaise has been especially deep since I’ve been here. For about a year before Juan died, I’d been working on some creative ventures outside the SCA. After five Battlemoors of turning out more than a dozen new garments over the summer in preparation for war, last year, I sewed one or two new pieces for each of us. Juan was doing stuff, but I was mostly on the sidelines watching and helping him. And after, I had no heart for it.

I came away from Battlemoor with:

  • plans for Gulf Wars (six months, y’all) and a (at this point very vague and open) trip to Trimaris sometime in the last half of 2017
  • a clear game plan for the next half-dozen high-concept costuming projects I want to work on, that will keep me busy for probably two years
  • a couple of schemes to facilitate, collaborate with, and promote a handful of underrecognized artisans whose work I find amazing and inspiring
  • a renewed commitment to getting back on the fighting field
  • a renewed commitment to do the groundwork research to prepare me for my 2018 trip to Lithuania and Latvia
  • a (for now) SUPER SEKRIT motivation for returning to work on the Motiño manuscript

And suddenly, I know what I need to do. I’m still sad, of course, for what’s lost, but for the first time in almost a year, I’m not unmoored. I love, I love, I love my people.

8-28-2016 178

a quiet moment in camp at dawn

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Sposa Dantiscana, Take II

It’s been a couple of years since my last go at this dress, and I’ve learned a fair bit about late-period costume since then, and I’m starting to ease my way back into the SCA, and what better way to do that than by starting a giant, ambitious costuming project right before leaving for war?

So. This is my Pinterest board where I have been gathering visual notes. I see two different things going on in most of the illustrations and reconstructions, and the Sposa Dantiscana dress is somewhere between the two, and I’m not sure what I’m actually looking at, what the artist understood or intended, or what the original historical garment the drawing is based on looked like, but by golly, I’m going to give it a shot.

The Trachtenbuch illustration and the Wiegel illustration are both showing what’s pretty clearly four layers: a chemise and gown, both of fairly unremarkable early-16th-c cut; an apron; an opashen/overgown. That’s also what’s going on in the three modern reconstruction photographs. Now the opashen as such is a pretty distinctly Russian garment (although overgowns were of course worn all over Europe), but the last of the three reconstructions is described as Polish, and based on Trachtenbuch.

The pair of Danziger matron illustrations at the end are interesting, because they both, from two different sources, very clearly show a chemise and an apron and between them a simple gown – no overgown, but those opashen-style sleeves, near floor-length with an oval hole cut at the elbow to put the arm through (as opposed to the long-slit or fully open oversleeves we see in Western European dresses of the same era and later). The neckline on both of these illustrations is quite similar to a lot of both period illustrations and modern interpretations of kampfrau/working class German of the period, which fits with with a fairly western locale.

Then there’s the Sposa Dantiscana illustration. At a first glance it looks like the other Danziger illustrations, but clearly has both fitted sleeves and opashen-style oversleeves. The first time I tried making this dress, I interpreted this as a fitted-sleeve gown under a short, fitted, doublet-like coat with opashen-style sleeves. But now I think this is wrong, partly because I have not found anything else that is even slightly similar to that, and partly because the distribution of layers on the body just doesn’t work; it’s not a functional garment.

Instead, I’m working on two theories. The first is that the costume should include a full opashen, body and sleeves, but the illustrator has for whatever reason eliminated it.It’s an interesting idea on paper but not particularly useful.

The second is that the gown has two layers of sleeves, possibly both sewn in, possibly one or both pinned or laced in. This is not unknown; the Katharina zur Lippe gown (Nuremburg and a almost hundred years later, so I’m being very careful to draw equivalencies, nevertheless) has sewn-in undersleeves that may have been cut from another garment.

So for the sake of versatility, my current approach to this gown is:

  • chemise
  • creme satin sleeveless gown with a boat-shaped neckline and attached laces
  • creme satin undersleeves with lacing points
  • creme satin and black silk oversleeves with matching lacing points
  • black silk opashen with attached laces
  • creme silk apron with black embroidered decoration

So the gown can be worn alone with one or both set of sleeves, with the undersleeves and sleeveless opashen, or with the undersleeves and the opashen with oversleeves laced in.

I’m not at all sure this is the most garment-history-authentic approach, but it’s the approach that hits all the points for illustration-based reconstruction, and I think it will be both comfortable and gorgeous. The question of whether a Lithuanian woman would have worn any of this at that time is another one altogether, but illustrations of Lithuanian elite noble women of any period are damned few and far between, and Poland and Lithuania were one political unit at this time, so Polish dress is still persona-appropriate, and it’s distinctive enough not to be mistaken for Russian.

I’m telling myself that I have no deadline for this project, that it’s purely for fun and as time permits, but in the back of my head I’m thinking it might be nice to wear to Coronation in November.




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I did a Laurel-y thing.

Actually, I did a very, very period thing. I became a Patron of the Arts.

I had the wonderful experience this past weekend of judging at the Outlands Tri-Baronial Arts and Sciences competition (that’s Caer Galen, Unser Hafen, and Caerthe, the hosting group this year – it rotates – and my new home Barony). I managed through some dumb luck to land entirely first-time competitors, which was absolutely a blast – these folks all had such interesting, varied projects, they all had been doing the work for some time but were just now delving into competition, and seriously, I could have spent the entire day with each of the three of them. So much fun.

The last of the entries was a jewelry entry, but it was only one of the gentleman’s five projects, and as Master Rhys and I sat and geeked out with him we touched on all five projects at least a little.

One, a Mongolian quiver, had been made as a commission piece, and as I listened to him and Rhys talk about the quiver, it dawned on me – the constraints the client had laid on him were in conflict with his own desire to make the piece more period, and his extensive knowledge about how to do that. It was a beautiful piece, but he could have taken it farther, and he knew it, and it was tremendously frustrating to him. That was so disappointing to me!

Now, I’ve been meaning to make a quiver and bowcase for ages, and I have the skills, and I have the funds for the materials, and I really could make the time, but I haven’t yet, and every time I go to the range I’m embarrassed by my $10 polyester sporting-goods-store quiver. Juan had been pretty excited about starting work on it this winter, but now, I just can’t even think about it.

So while I was off filling out the judging form, I realized – these are two intersecting problems, and the solution is throwing money at them. I went back, returned his documentation, and said, “I’d like to talk to you about a commission.” I proposed: I supply parameters, he supplies an estimate, we tweak the plan a little, and he gets to go bonkers. By commissioning the pieces, I’ll provide the patronage, and he gets to do the research, make it kingdom-level-competition-worthy, put into practice all that knowledge he’s accumulated and just not had a chance to manifest. And I take a project off of my plate that was supposed to be a “me and Juan together” project and would have probably been delayed ANOTHER few years while I get to a place where the thought of it doesn’t make me want to sob. Reframe the question. Make it something new and different, with some joy in it and something for the future.

The look on his face as he wrapped his head around the idea was worth the price of admission. Pure awesome.

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Taking measure

Sometimes, I like to take on a project that is at the bleeding edge of my current skills, take my time, and just assess the current envelope (for to stretch it, of course). I’ve done this with big cooking and costuming projects, but this is the first time I’ve done it with a scribal project.

Recently, I was honored with the assignment of Duke Albert von Dreckenveldt’s Doe and Mountain, the Outlands’ award for long service in arts and sciences. His Grace is a dear friend and an artisan I’ve admired for years (and his Laurel is a couple of months younger than I am) so “daunted” was a little bit of an understatement.

As he is an armorer, if I were better at figure work, I’d have worked from a late-period illumination or print illustrating very fine armor design. I didn’t find an inspiration piece I was happy with, but I did find the Almugavar Hours, a scribe’s dream of an early 16th-century Spanish devotional. I decided that the best way I could honor Al’s art was with the very best art I could bring, so I did. This was a whole lot of fun to work on, and a delight to see presented.

Arches Cold Press Watercolor, Deckled Edge, 22×30
Higgins calligraphy ink
Windsor & Newton (Cotman line) paints
Liquid Leaf
Pigma Micron artists’ pens

Finished scroll

Finished scroll

His Grace Albert receiving his Doe and Mountain from HRM Anna, with many thanks to Lady Adelaisa Bernois for the court photography!

His Grace Albert receiving his Doe and Mountain from HRM Anna, with many thanks to Lady Adelaisa Bernois for the court photography!

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Battlemoor VI Chai Cream Cordial

For the many people that requested the recipe:

1/2 bag Vitamin Cottage Brand loose bulk bagged chai tea blend*

1 1.75L bottle vodka of your choice.

2 c. sugar

2 c. water

1/2 gallon half & half

Combine vodka and spices and let rest for two weeks.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and boil until liquid is thickened and reduced by 1/3 to 1/2. Pull off heat BEFORE syrup reaches soft-ball stage/235 degrees. Allow to cool.

Filter vodka and spice blend through a goldtone coffee filter or other fine mesh. Add syrup and let rest for another two weeks.

Filter through a fine mesh again, then filter through paper coffee filters (you will need to change the filter several times as it gums up). Add half & half. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.

*The chai blend is in the bulk spices area, and the bags run about 1/4 lb, between $4.50 and $5.00 for for a  bag at $17.73/lb. If you’re using a different chai, the volume is roughly 1.5 cups. (I didn’t measure – I actually doubled the recipe and dumped a whole bag in – but I will check and update the post when I make another batch, and I WILL be making more batches.)

More about Battlemoor later. It was a glorious event.

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