Monday roundup: small projects

Working on:

After more than a month of gruelingly slow progress on the green wool ropa, I needed an easy win or two. So I pulled out a Eura dress that I got cut before Battlemoor last year but didn’t have time to finish it and whoops, three evenings of mindless running stitch later, I have a new underdress! Then I made a little further progress on the stonecarving on the black-and-pearl necklace, and then I got distracted by the Vadstena klosterregel limpbound book that’s been popping up all over Pinterest historical bookbinding circles lately. I’m almost – not quite – ready to go back to the ropa.


I finished Origins of European Printmaking and am now working on Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-1550. I took a month off from the Norton Anthology of English Literature after finishing Volume 1, and it’s about time to start in on Volume 2.

Geeking out on:

I started an interesting thought experiment last week: a document of outfits for each of the places and periods I’m interested in playing right now (all of the Baltic tribes; Lipkowie Tatar; Spanish Renn) and what components of a complete skin-out kit I have for each of them. This lets me think about prioritizing projects in terms of how close they get me to the silhouette I want, and reinvigorates my desire to work on Baltic kit.

Honestly I’m having a little bit of a hard time summoning an intensity of geekfulness. The limpbinding book was pretty exciting for a couple of days, and I’ve got a couple more bookbinding projects lined up, but in any normal year I’d be up to my neck in Battlemoor by now and I just can’t get emotionally invested in it. Not having burning deadlines is nice, and I know that the crisis will end and events will start up again, but the when is so vague and distant that it’s not super motivational.

Next Up:

Trying to get through this stack of books before I have to send them back, and starting to recipe test in earnest for the French feast, and chipping away at various projects. It’s going to be a low-key summer.

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New Baltic jewelry links

Every so often you’ve just got to get on the Google and linkhop around as if you’re just starting to learn about a new area of study, to do a sweep of the new stuff. It’s been a couple of years since I did that for Baltic women’s jewelry, and I was going through my hoard this morning and wanted to double-check the tribal associations I’ve attached to each piece, so I went looking for a decently labeled picture set, and I found two that I hadn’t found before:

  • The account of jeweler and reenactor Uģa Dravas on the photosharing website
  • The Iron Age and Medieval slide sets from the Latvian history standard curriculum content package put together jointly by the Latvian National Museum of History and the National Education Content and Examination Center, a department of the Ministry of Education.

Both are in Latvian, but they’re both written in very precise and simple language that comes across Google Translate just fine (and I can pick up most of it anyway). In the near-ish future I’ll revamp the costume reference pages to include the material from these two sites, because they both have really beautiful, well-composed exemplars of “this is what a Selu/Letgali/etc. kit looks like and how it’s differentiated from the neighbors,” and more complete sets of exemplars than anywhere else I’ve seen, although unfortunately both sites, are less fleshed-out in the Kurši department than I wish they were, since the Kurši lived more in what’s now Lithuania.

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More on pearwood

Aren’t circular citations fun?!? I backtracked the assertion that “European woodcuts are usually pearwood” to what appears to be the original source, and the background is pretty interesting, but also kind of a dead end.

Apparently, in 2004, a forestry student (!) at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development named Marieke Penkuhn defended her thesis on results of the determination of the species of wood in woodblocks from the 15th century from the Derschau Collection in the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Prints and Drawings), part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin system. She never published that thesis and seems to have dropped out of the history-of-wood-technologies scene, or at least what part of that scene the non-paywalled and English-language Internet has access to (I have to wonder what I’d find if I both spoke German and still had institutional access), but Parshall & Schoch corresponded with her, and summarize her findings thusly:

Pekkuhn […] completed an analysis of […] twenty-nine samples, all were members of the Family Pomoideae; most were either pear (Pyrus communis) or possibly apple (Malus sylvestris) wood; nine were probably mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)*. [p 72]

Parshall & Schoch, of course, are cited by everybody, with varying degrees of precision and directness, and there we are.

I’d love to see if the Kupferstichkabinett has integrated Penkuhn’s findings into their metadata describing these twenty-nine objects, but I can’t get their online catalogue to cough up any of them right now. Possibly as I get further into my stack of books I’ll find a specific example and be able to search for it directly. But in the meantime, I feel like I can refine that uselessly broad assertion to something along the lines of “extant examples of 15th century woodcuts from southern Germany appear to have been made from several different species of readily available fruitwood commonly associated with woodworking.” I feel much more comfortable using apple and cherry now that I can put some context and justification to my departure from period practice, but I also plan to get my hands on some Swiss pear.

*Note that this is rowan, not a Fraxinus sp. ash – completely different tree.

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Monday Roundup: spring and solitude

It seems particularly important, now, to document, to leave some trace that can be looked back on in the future when we’re trying to remember – what did we do during those quiet days? 

A lot of maintenance, as it turns out. Also some creating.

Working on:

Mostly I’ve been working on embroidered trim for a wool ropa; it’s a 200+hour project and I didn’t really expect to finish it this year but the pandemic has, maybe, changed that. I’m trying to work on it two evenings out of three to give myself time for other projects but as I get close to a major milestone (finishing the base embroidery and being ready to start the goldwork) I’ve been pushing through, and I’ll probably hit that point tonight.

Other things I’ve got in the works, and puttering on in between sprints on the ropa:

  • the Eura dress I didn’t finish for Battlemoor last year
  • the farthingale that was “done enough to wear” at Battlemoor (barely) and now needs to be properly finished.
  • a necklace of pumice and pearl with a really stunning and massive pendant of what I’m pretty sure is black labradorite.
  • continuing work on the Hagembach letters.
  • continuing research on the Caerthe 50th Year feast.

I just don’t have the mental bandwidth for Motiño right now, but I’d love to get back to it.


I finally finished NAEL I, and all the tangents I took from it to read complete works rather than excerpts. The last part of that, actually, was listening to the audio of Le Morte d’Arthur narrated by Derek Jacobi, which was absolutely lovely. I’m taking the month of April off before getting into Vol. II, which is the 16th/17th century, and after that I’ll be out of SCA-relevant stuff and into modern lit, although I’ll definitely be cycling back to medieval and Renaissance literature beyond the English sphere.

I have a big stack of origin-of-woodcut books that I borrowed via ILL just before the libraries shut down, so I need to get through them before we reopen and I have to return them. I’m working on Parshall’s Origins of European Printmaking now, and The Woodcut in Fifteen-Century Europe is up next.

Geeking out on:

Well, woodcuts, obviously.

Next up:

I’m trying to do a low-key version of the usual spring garb ramp-up, getting ahead of the production curve on stuff I’ll need for Battlemoor if it happens but also trying not to get emotionally invested in it. There will be 6-day camping events again, even if they’re not this July, and so the work won’t go to waste. There’s certainly enough low-hanging-fruit to keep me busy – the farthingale, the Eura dress, fabric for two aprons. I want to round up all of my jewelry and figure out what needs repaired, what I don’t wear anymore, what can be repurposed, and where my gaps are. I’ll probably start that sometime this week.

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On tertiary sources

The artist’s design or drawing is made on a piece of wood (usually beechwood)

Mainly pear wood was used, for very detailed designs also the hard boxwood, for large areas the soft basswood.”

A wooden block is used, most often of beech or pear wood.”

It occurred to me that as I’m going to be visiting the specialty lumber shop soon, I should figure out what species of wood Europeans used for woodcuts in the incunabula period, so I went looking, and I started (as one does) with a quickie Google search and found (as one does) a mess of tertiary sources all saying similar but slightly conflicting things, generally with vague language like “usually” attached. That’s a pattern that often suggests the existence of a circular citation somewhere back up the line, so I got curious and decided to dig into it.

First of all, it’s really hard to find information about the blocks themselves, because there are far fewer extant blocks than there are prints and the descriptive language between the two overlaps so much that it’s very challenging to search for one while eliminating the other. I muddled around in the shallows of Google for a while and didn’t find much, except for the earliest known extant European woodcut (which is, hello, on walnut – the first validation of my suspicion of that “usually” language) and a Twitter post from a British Museum curator about the collection of Albrecht Dürer print blocks there. A hook! An old librarian trick is to find just one really solid hit, and get into the metadata of that one good hit and find the bit of metadata that will return only the results you’re looking for (and that can vary a lot, from search to search and from institution to institution – especially in museums, which have a less universal standard than libraries.)

In this particular case, for the British Museum anyway, the magic filter is object-type:printing-block, which returns 43 results from the period 1350-1650.

Two of those are Asian. 37 of them are Dürer’s, a number of which are described as “probably pearwood.” The remaining four anonymous blocks (one German, from about 1470; two British and one Italian, both early 17th century) do not identify the species of wood that they’re cut from, although the Wikimedia page for the anonymous German also describes it as “probably pearwood.” There’s nothing in the discussion or metadata on Wikimedia that would suggest where that information is coming from if not from the British Museum’s metadata?

So now I’m considering the idea that we know about Dürer’s wood choices from correspondence or other text resources because he was a rock star within his own lifetime, and we’ve made the typical mistake of generalizing what we know about him to the rest of the continent over a three-hundred-year period. What do we actually know?

A search for “Dürer pearwood” yields the information that the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns two Dürer printing blocks, and they’re more assertive than the British Museum about the type of wood used in these works. So I followed that link rabbithole to see if there are any other pearwood printing blocks in their collection from around the same period. There’s one, from 1480 by an anonymous German; it appears to be the only other woodcut block in the Met’s collection. There’s also a really stunning pearwood triptych that is dated to the 15th century, not more precisely than that, so people were certainly exploiting the properties of the wood for fine carving before Dürer.

Okay, so, so far I have two Germans using pear post-1470, maybe three; one anonymous French artisan using walnut pre-1380, three anonymous artisans using unknown materials significantly later – and absolutely nothing from the century in between. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that pearwood was “often used” in Germany in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, which is much narrower than the sweeping statements I started with, and doesn’t tell me anything about what was going on in Spain in the following century. A search of the Prado’s online collections yielded nothing, and the website is down at the one Spanish history of print museum that I’ve looked at so far. I’ve got some books on order – one purchase, two ILLs – that will hopefully resolve this puzzle, but I’ve hit a good stopping point as far as goofing off on the internet is concerned.

I occasionally hear new A&S researchers advised to avoid tertiary sources, and I think that’s far too simplistic a view – they have tremendous value for context and for checking our own interpretations of primary sources. If I’d only looked at the Dürers or only looked at the Bois Protat, I would have had enough to say that pear or walnut is attested, but attested is not necessarily typical, and I wouldn’t have known to look further.

But if I’d accepted the tertiary sources at face value, I might have gravitated to beech, which is mentioned in several places but as it turns out I haven’t been able to confirm at all, or toward fruitwood, which would maybe have been right – maybe not – or taken the conflicting statements to support a range of choices of whatever was available in period and suitable to the task at hand, which is a shortcut we see a lot in the SCA.

Neither is sufficient. The balance of the two keeps me questioning, keeps me curious. I’d love to know where the beechwood/boxwood assertions came from – individual extant pieces, like the German pearwood pieces, generalized? Text sources? Post-period assumptions or interpretations from the 18th or 19th century? I’d love to lay my hands on a specific example from closer to where I want to work in both time and geography. I’m still wondering if there’s a circular citation somewhere.

Regardless of whether one’s starting from a generalized statement about a phenomenon in a secondary or tertiary source, or starting with a single primary object unmoored from its cultural and technological context, the important part is to keep poking, keep developing and clarifying context, because context is everything. 

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Hagembach Toledo initial alphabet

Peter Hagembach was a German printer who worked first with Leonardo Hutz in Valencia, from about 1491, and after 1498 independently in Toledo. The International Short Title Catalogue contains 38 works under his imprint, which seems to have survived him; beginning in 1503, works were credited to sucesor de Pedro Hagembach. I have not yet found anything else about his life or his relatively brief career, but I’m still digging around.

His Missale Mozarabicum published in 1500 is his most famous book, due partly to the large number of copies made (and distributed, and still in existence –  ISTC lists 25 holdings in libraries across nine European countries and the US) and partly to one of those copies having made its way into the library of the 2nd Earl Spencer three hundred years after printing, and described in precise and glowing detail by the Earl’s bibliographer, Thomas Frognall Dibdin.

I’m actually interested in three of his less well-known works, all of which have digital facsimiles available:

These three books all appear to use the same collection of typesets, which includes a text body font, a larger but otherwise identical heading font, and a set of decorated initials. It’s the initials that I’m interested in here – I’ll come back to the fonts later.

Hagembach’s initials were almost certainly metal type, but I’m reproducing them in woodcut form (although I may eventually cast lead reproductions of the woodcuts) for a couple of reasons: first, to gain practice and working with very fine detail in woodblock cutting; second, simple economy and practicality (I have a space and tools to work with woodblocks now, but I don’t have the ability to work on metal); and third, because woodblocks will be useful to in the context I want to do printing in the relatively near future, which is a lot of tabletop block printing combined with hand-decorating work.

There are also some really lovely borders and other decorations scattered through these three manuscripts, and I’m planning on reproducing those as well.

My process:

I went through the Comentarii and found 16 letters; I’m in the process of working through the other two manuscripts to try to fill in the holes, and whatever’s still missing I’ll create.

At 400% scale, I screen captured each letter, then digitally resized the captures to 4″ and printed them.

I’m in the process of tracing each printed capture and cleaning them up.


Next step: scanning and reprinting a second time at finished scale (probably 1.5″, although I’ll play with it to get a nice size that I think I can successfully cut), and those prints will be transferred onto the wood surface for cutting. Actually, really the next step is hitting the woodworker’s playground specialty lumber shop to pick out some really great material!

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A new year

With 12th Night behind me, I’m thinking about what’s coming in the next year or so. It’s going to be a good year for getting back into artsci in a big way:

  • February – Northern Outlands ArtSci
  • April – Kingdom ArtSci
  • May – Coronation (? – that is going to depend on work!)
  • August – St. Sebastians (I’m running Caerthe’s Cooks’ Guild now, so I’ll be taking point on the luncheon)
  • September – Caerthe 50th Year
  • November – A week roadtripping around northern Spain, then a week in Madrid, visiting ALL THE MUSEUMS
  • 2021 – maybe hopefully Gulf Wars

Juan and I used to start planning for the next event as we were packing out, and I think I’m going to start doing that again; keeping half an eye at all times on what’s coming up will help me stay on track with the many, many different tracks of projects and interests I’m juggling right now, and not doing things last minute will be vastly less stressful. For so long, my life has been so chaotic and dependent on factors outside my control (school, work schedule, transportation) that I’ve been reluctant to actually make plans; but that’s not true anymore, and I’m going to need to make an intentional effort to adjust to that new, better reality.

I think I’m going to plan on pulling out all the Baltic bling for Northern Outlands ArtSci, which means maybe a little jewelry repair but no sewing. People haven’t seen me wearing Baltic for a while, it’ll be fun! And I’m planning on judging, not doing an entry (although I MIGHT do a commentary-only display). So it will be all-in-all a very low-key event in terms of prep.

THE BIG NEWS: Now that I’ve talked face-to-face to all the people I need to talk to, I can announce this here: I am confirmed as the head cook for Caerthe 50th Year, and that will be my comeback feast. I’m ridiculously excited about it – it’s a big deal and a huge honor and I have some wonderful support and it’s going to be an absolute blast. There will be a lot more about that in the coming months.

After going all-out no-breaks to finish (ish) the new mantilla for 12th Night, I’m going to take a bit of a break from sewing for a little while to work on the woodcut alphabet project – watch for updates on that! – the Motiño translation, and the first wave of 50th Year research. I’ve already read through and annotated Le Menagier and Du Fait de Cuisine, and my ILL copy of Le Viandier  came in over the weekend so I’ll be starting on that in the next day or so. I also have a whole stack of books about French courtliness, pageantry, power and status displays in art and literature, and that sort of thing. I’ve never taken a particularly large interest in French whatever, so this is an interesting new rabbithole to go down.

But not too long a break from sewing, because I tripped and fell into Hannah’s shop yesterday and came out with a gorgeous fog-blue wool and coppery silk for a ropa, which will be stunning with the rust dress with the blue-grey trim, and I think I’m going to try to have that ready for Coronation. So much for “no new projects until after I move, pack up all the craft stash”!

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Monday Roundup: narrowing the focus

Working on: 
I’ve officially started househunting, and so my trimmed project list is getting culled much more aggressively so I can start pre-packing.

I didn’t get quite as far on the mantilla as I hoped last week, but I’ll finish the outer border and start on the inner border tonight. 

For the time being, I’m focusing on:

  • occasional scribal assignments, scribal practice, and continuing to work on making paints
  • the floral mantilla and a ropa, which will complete the working-class Spanish kit that I’ll wear to 12th Night (sorry, I just don’t have the spoons or the time to build a Venetian outfit that I won’t have many other opportunities to wear).
  • the block cutting projects currently on the board: the borders from the Commentarii; the initials project; the baronial populace badge; linocuts from photographs
  • Motiño
  • the research phase of my fall 2020 feast
  • house heraldry

For these projects, all I need is a small sewing kit; my woodcarving tools; my scribal kit and a few pads of paper; my laptop, some library books, and project files. One box of stuff. I’m setting aside an outfit for Caer Galen Midwinter and one for Caerthe 12th Night, and going ahead and putting together my day basket for those events now, and everything else SCA-adjacent is getting packed. If I absolutely need to get to it I can, but what I’ve got here is more than enough to get me out the other side of this move.

My last few moves have been so traumatic and chaotic and under the gun, and I’ve been so compromised by tiny spaces and inability to customize them, that I’ve never really been able to get my stuff (everything, but especially my SCA and art workspaces and supplies) into any kind of order. This changes in the new house. It will be orderly, it will make sense, and if something isn’t working for the space or for my lifestyle, it will get fixed. To get to that state as quickly as possible after the move, I need to be as thoughtful and organized as possible before the move, and that means giving myself plenty of time to get it done. So I start packing now.


Aren’t they beautiful? I’m so looking forward to seeing them come to life.


You guyssss Mapping the Silk Road and beyond : 2,000 years of exploring the East by Kenneth Nebenzahl is so damn gorgeous. It’s just a delight. I thought it would be about medieval Asian maps but it’s actually about evolving European conceptions of Asia as expressed in classical, medieval and Renaissance European maps, with the occasional Middle Eastern map thrown in. Absolutely fascinating.

Also, I have begun The Canterbury Tales. 

Also, Poetry, knowledge and community in late medieval France has arrived and it looks fascinating.

Geeking out on: 

My future garden. My future studio. My future woodshop. I know, I’m obsessing a little.

Next up: 

See above!

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(not Monday) Monday Roundup: blackwork and block cutting II

I didn’t manage to get this out on Monday, but I’m really trying to do it weekly. Late is better than never and done is better than perfect!

Working on: 

Continuing work on the blackwork mantilla; hoping to wear it at 12th Night. I finished the floral border and started on the geometric outlining last night and will definitely have photos of a section of the complete pattern next week!

Block cutting: I went looking for extant woodcuts to reproduce and found a great manuscript, a Spanish translation of Julius Caesar’s Commentarii published by Peter Hagembach (this guy, not that guy) in Toledo in 1498. I’ve been working this week on blocks of the top and bottom illustrations from p. 175 of the .pdf facsimile, and also going through the manuscript and capturing the beautiful initials. I’ve located examples of thirteen letters so far, so I’m hoping to be able to create a complete set through a mix of direct reproduction and extrapolation.

C&I: I’ve started turning the earth pigments I bought earlier this year (seriously, give this dude your money, his stuff is awesome and he’s a delight to deal with) and the shells I just brought back from Florida into a paint set, and added to my collection of fake-book boxes to store them in; my eventual goal is to have my field C&I kit in a book coffer modeled on the portable ones of this style.


I haven’t been reading much SCA-adjacent lately, but I have Mapping the Silk Road and beyond : 2,000 years of exploring the East by Kenneth Nebenzahl next up on my beside table.

Geeking out on: 

Everything I can’t do, basically. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest looking at low-budget DIY presses and just kind of quietly freaking out, and forcefully reminding myself that 1.) I have nowhere to put a press and 2.) even though some of these plans are very low-budget, they’re still an expenditure, and at this point any spending dips into the house budget and 3.) my time is best spent getting blocks cut; by the time I use up the blockcutting material I already have, I’ll be in the new house and will have both space and money to build that press.

I got to visit an out-of-kingdom local artsci event and judge some really cool projects and make soap! Super fun!

Next up: 

My library holds list. (One of these things is not like the others.) I invite you to take a guess at what I’m gearing up to work on!

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Monday Roundup: print cutting and blackwork

Working on:

My current evening project is a new mantilla for the working-class Spanish kit. I’ve been playing around a lot with lino cutting and trying to get good clean transfers from laser prints, and of all damned things I’m getting the best results from ironing. No chemicals, no time delay; I’m absolutely delighted. So it’ll be a lot easier to start turning out printing blocks. Wood’s a lot slower – the woodblock at right below, based on a tile at the Alhambra, was a couple of weeks of puttering around, but I can knock out a fairly elaborate 8×10 linocut in a couple of days.

I finished a Caerthe populace guild woodcut earlier this week and then realized I’d neglected to flip the image, so it’s trashed; I’ll start over on it as soon as I finish the Garden of the Gods lino shown in-progress below. The immediate plan for that woodcut is the cover of some stab binding journals, but I’m sure I’ll find lots of other use for it!


Headbands: How to Work Them by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille (1996)

This is just one of those great little fabulously geeky small-press labor-of-love books that fill in a gap that nothing else does. All of my big gorgeous authoritative bookbinding manuals touch on headbands, but none of them go into depth. It runs well over $100 used, but it’s readily available through ILL, so, you know, do that. There’s also a new edition currently in print; I’ll definitely be buying that one.

Geeking out on: 

Right now, really, mostly the block cutting work, but I’m also itching to get back to Motiño.

Next up:

I’m flying out tonight for a trip to Florida, and looking forward to Ex Opus Southern Regional Arts & Science in Trimaris on Miami on Saturday!

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