Tag Archives: sca life

War footing II: A Scottish mercenary in the Spanish army

That’s Juan’s primary persona, based very loosely on a very tiny reference in Douglas Preston’s Cities of Gold* to a John Black/Juan Blaque in the Coronado expedition, of which very little is known except that he was Scottish by birth. Our Juan is a generation later, born sometime in the late 1530s. He traveled to France for military service in the early 1550s, toward the end of the regency of Mary, Queen of Scots; and abandoned France for Spain in the chaotic aftermath of the death of Henry II. In the Spanish service, he traveled to the New World, and was honored for his service there with small cash and land grants both in Mexico and on the Continent, a common practice in the land-rich, upwardly mobile military of Philip II.  He retired to a life of minor gentility outside of Segovia around 1580, and that’s where we find him today.

My focus on garb up to this point has been on mid-1580s Spanish, but after watching me play with how far I can stretch my persona in directions of time and culture, he’s inspired to toy around with some of the same experimentations. I made a very basic Western Viking kit last year for one of the Battlemoor parties, and he likes it so much for casual camping garb that he’s asked me to make more. Also, hopefully he’ll be fighting this year, so the big push will be making sure there’s enough fighting garb.

updated 8/10

His garb is generally in pretty good shape, but there’s always stuff that needs done. To wit:

Viking: two days worth.

  • One good outfit done and ready to wear.
  • Definitely make one more tunic (fabric in hand), embroidery similar in scope and scale to the royal Estrella War Court tunic, which took about ten days. Some or all of that embroidery may happen after Battlemoor. Finished – bumped up on the priority list to finish in time for the investiture of our friends, Broddi hornabrjótr and Máel Mide ingen Domnaill, as Baron and Baroness of Dragonsspine.
  • Another pair of trews ONLY if I find fabric I really like and have timeHahaha not happening.
  • Leg wraps – probably purchased rather than woven; there are reasonably priced ones, in pretty twills that I don’t have the equipment to make at this time, on Etsy. On a closer look, the affordable ones on Etsy are just strips of wool twill serged, and the handwoven ones are out of my price range at this time. I have twill. So I’m just going to make them.
  • Low boots or turnshoes: he plans to make, I may help out. We found out – on the rush job for Dragonsspine Investiture, see above – that a pair of non-SCA boots he thought didn’t fit, do, after all, and look great with the Viking. So the turnshoes are on back burner for now.
  • Torc and cloak pin: we will work together on them. Not started, but I’d like to try.
  • Hat: I’m very familiar with what hats looked like in eastern Norse territories, but need to do some research on what would have been appropriate for the Isles. Patterned, starting this week

Spanish: two days worth, plus court/party garb.

  • Ready to wear: Two good outfits of daywear: black linen doublet and trunkhose; blue brocade doublet and brown wool trunkhose, one plain lightweight linen shirt that can be washed midweek.
  • Ready to wear: Brown and gold silk doublet and gold trunkhose and lightweight, heavily blackworked shirt: Saturday Grand Court and party.
  • Great boots rev. 2 – the rev. 1 boots are wearable, but not super comfortable for multiple days of camping. I have one more tweak of the pattern to do and then I may *crosses fingers* cut leather on these TODAY. Construction done, just need to finish the soles – hoping to have these ready for a trial run at Crown Tournament next weekend.
  • Need one more good outfit for Friday court and party: I have a blue velvet doublet in progress, cut out and waiting on lining fabric. I would like to make a matching pair of paned slops, but that requires going back to Denver Fabric and seeing if I can match fabrics. Blue doublet is well underway but has a lot of work still to do. I’m going to try to get the next phase of machine sewing done this week and take the handsewing to Crown.
  • I have some really stunning fabric for a short cloak, and would like to get it done for Battlemoor courts, but it’s not a top priority. Unfortunately not enough fabric, so the cloak is not happening.
  • New hat: purchased and in transit from the vendor now.
  • Hose: proper underpinnings! The bare knee between the top of the boots and the hem of the trunkhose is awkward. Also, with hose, he can wear turnshoes with the Spanish as well. Not happening before Battlemoor. A project for this fall/winter. The new boots are softer and much taller, which resolves that problem.

Fighting garb:

  • Ready to wear: Two heavy, plain linen late-period shirts.
  • Purchased straight-leg elastic-waist pants. Until I get some idea of wear and tear patterns, I’m not investing my valuable time in handmade fighting garb. Shopping for these next weekend.

*Yes, Douglas Preston the novelist; no, this is not a novel. It’s half history of the Coronado expedition, half memoir of Preston’s attempt to reconstruct the route of the expedition, on horseback, from the Mexic0-Arizona border to the farthest extent of the journey in Kansas. It’s fascinating and meticulously researched and pure delicious experimental archaeology geekery, and I can’t recommend it enough.


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Corazon III: Post-assessment

I started drafting this post a week after the event, but then Kingdom A&S loomed large, and then, and then – suddenly it’s been two months and I still haven’t sat down to finish it.

I took part of a slow boring afternoon to rectify that. I’ve got the menu, a couple of recipes, and some other information up in their own section; this post is reflective.

This is the most ambitious feast I’ve done, by far. Over lunch on Sunday after closing out the site cleanup, my Laurel asked me, “Was it too ambitious?” I had to think about that for a minute, and then replied, “It was right on the edge.”

Right on the edge. It’s where I live. I feel odd – guilty, almost – if I’m not pushing myself to the limits of my capacity, growing my capacity, and pushing some more. There’s no question, I could not have pulled off this feast, this time last year. I’m proud of that, and yet it makes me anxious too. The reward for success is an ever-shifting goalpost.

What worked:

  • Kitchen crew! I had a solid crew, recruited in advance, and created a private Facebook group to share information and coordinate with them in advance. Kitchen ran incredibly smoothly all day and things that had to be started in advance finished at the correct times to come together for feast. And having several of the kitchen crew staying AT MY HOUSE could have been a wreck but actually worked out extremely well – we got good work done on Thursday and Friday, and had a lovely little after-revel (of the “fall about the living room and drink till our feet quit hurting” variety) on Saturday.
  • Pre-cooking/freezing EVERYTHING lunch-related. Lunch was “heat this, mix these three bags, set it out.” The only bobble was that the vent fans drew heat away from the ovens and caused their effective temperature to drop by over 50 degrees, which slowed down the rate of rotating stuff through. Once we turned off the fans, everything was fine. VERY GLAD we found that out at lunchtime and not in the leadup toward feast.
  • Hall Steward: Having someone who’s entire job is announcing dishes as they come out, rather than trying to brief servers and have them remember.
  • Pre-cooking!
  • It was awesome to have our own servingware and not have to worry about borrowing Dragonsspine’s. We need more. Working on an inventory, a “fill in the gaps wishlist”, and will be requesting funding for totes.

What didn’t work:

  • Prior to this year, we’ve always sold out and had people who still wanted feast and so were willing to serve. Since we didn’t sell out, we didn’t have that ready pool of serving volunteers. Next time: smaller reservation limit, to be raised closer to the event if we want to or kept sold out. Also, more advertising of need for servers in advance.
  • Also, because I cooked for 96 and we didn’t serve 96, lots of leftovers. I save a lot of money by shopping sales far in advance, but I could have saved MORE money by buying 2/3 to 3/4 of the food in advance and making a late decision about whether or not to buy the rest at full price just in advance. (For example, buying only 8 turkeys at .89/lb in November and making a late decision about whether I really needed the other 4 at $1.49/lb. I actually needed one or two, MAYBE.)
  • Cleanup crew: We were lucky on volunteers, especially after Garick started organizing people, but that was luck, not planning. Madhavi made an interesting suggestion of something they do in Trimaris: Hire a group (household, guild, or shire) to come in and JUST do cleanup. I will definitely be pitching this in the future.
  • I was pretty comfortable delegating longer cooking and prep tasks to kitchen crew (both pre-arranged and on-the-spot volunteers), but closer to the end, I ended up at the stove, doing the things that needed done quickly, instead of supervising the whole operation. Recruit a saucier – someone who comes in half an hour before feast is served and just runs the stove during service.
  • Could have done even more pre-cooking! I ran out of room in my own freezer (and fridge, and coolers…) but could certainly have been more organized about transferring finished pre-cooking to other people’sfreezers. And there were certain dishes that I wanted to cook fresh but would have been fine frozen in advance. FOUR DOZEN CREPES.

It’s strange to realize – after three consecutive years of “leveling up” in the complexity and scale of feasts, the next couple of cooking gigs I have lined up are far less ambitious – things I feel very confident about pulling off almost effortlessly. Maybe that’s a better approach – alternating challenging projects with ones that give me a little room to get comfortable in my own skillset and focus on details and precision rather than careening along the edge of the possible.

Some great pictures that my Laurel took and gave me permission to share:

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Theory of Weird Food

Just over two weeks out from Corazon, the doing of stuff is consuming my life and the documenting of stuff is, once again, falling behind. Inspired by a conversation on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to repost this material, originally written as part of a class handout in 2013. I promise at least one more process post between now and Corazon, and a really thorough post-assessment, with pictures! – a week or so after the event.


I have come to the conclusion that what people SAY they want about “weird” period food, and what they actually want, are two different things. I’ve seen people who self-describe as very experimental eaters balk at the most astonishingly simple things, and I’ve seen “nobody will eat that” dishes absolutely demolished, with a collective cry from the populace for seconds and recipes. In trying to figure out how to more successfully walk the line between interesting and accessible, I’ve developed the theory that people parse “weird” on three axes:

  • Exotic ingredients

  • Complex flavor profiles

  • Unfamiliar or elaborate presentation

How well a dish is received is all about how we mix and match these three qualities for a particular audience.

0 of 3 – Very accessible. Runs the risk of being boring – but doesn’t have to be! Good for the keynote side dish (starch or vegetable) in a course,  or potluck or buffet dish for an audience of known conservative eaters.


  • Meat or fruit pies
  • Macrows
  • Modernly familiar sausage
  • Simple vegetable and meat soups (i.e. potaje de fideos (chicken noodle soup) from de Nola)

1 of 3 – Accessible. Good for the main dish in a course, a potluck dish, or a novice A&S entry.


  • Period (cake-like) gingerbread
  • Simply roasted beef, chicken, or pork accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Period sausages
  • Salads with fresh flowers

2 of 3 – Interesting. Good for complementary dishes in a course, a potluck dish for an audience of known adventurous eaters, a setting where people will be eating small portions of enough different dishes to pick and choose, or a more advanced A&S entry or one of several dishes in a survey-style A&S entry.


  • Simply roasted treatments of exotic meat or fowl accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Simpler tharids (Middle Eastern savory bread puddings)
  • Most seafood dishes
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts grounded in familiar techniques and ingredients (custards, candies, fried pastries, stuffed dates).

3 of 3 – Ambitious. Good for tasting platters, an audience of known foodies, or a high-level A&S entry.


  • More elaborate tharids
  • Middle Eastern acid-marinaded, highly spiced meat dishes (i.e. goat with pomegranate from Anonymous Andalusian)
  • High court dishes (i.e. stuffed octopus from Sent Sovi)
  • Lactofermented period-style pickle (i.e. pickled eggplant from de Nola)
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts using ingredients or techniques not generally seen in modern confectionery (non-dairy custards, camphored sweets, fruit conserva).

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Statement of purpose

I spent some time recently going through some old Livejournal posts, looking at old project lists to see what I’ve let fall through the cracks and what I’ve accomplished, and I came across this, written about fifteen months ago (and lightly edited for publication here). It was a refreshing, needed, perspective-altering re-read.

What do I REALLY want out of the SCA?

1.) I want to build a community of friends and associates whose company I enjoy. People I respect, and whose respect I want to earn. That means going to events, and having the energy and free time at events to actually enjoy the company of my friends, which means a sufficiently well-equipped and smooth-running encampment and self-aware and responsible choices about when and when not to camp. It means maintaining my own house as a social space. And it means socializing, and maintaining social relationships, with these amazing people, outside the game as well.

2.) I want to contribute, in a meaningful and personally satisfying way (if only in my own small corner of the world) to the overarching ever-evolving self-definition of the Game and Society. That means seeing the shire on a stable and lasting footing. That means fealty to my Laurel and my Crown, not just in word but in deed. That means representing, with honor and dedication, every order to which I may be honored to be made a Companion and every office which I may hold.

3.) I want a context and an audience for research that I think is important and valuable, but that I will never have the professional background to perform formally. That means, as in any research practice, not just doing the work, but presenting it through teaching, competition, and durable venues.

4.) I want a context and an audience for an art practice that I find creatively and spiritually satisfying. Again, that means not just doing the work, but presenting it through documentation, competition, and gifting.*

*(I have academic background in fine arts and also in sociology and ethnography. At various times in my life, I have been a working artist and planned a career in the social sciences. My life took a different course, obviously, but I believe that there is a place in both the social sciences and the arts for passionate, autodidactic amateurs, and one of the lovely things about the SCA is that it offers a space for those amateurs.)

What grounds you? What is it that you want and find in this game, and what do you consider your responsibilities to it? How does the relationship between big-picture desires and satisfactions and the (sometimes tedious, tiring, or daunting) labor to accomplish those desires play out for you?

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Gratification, instant and otherwise

I’ve been working on a lot of projects lately that will have hundreds of hours invested in them by the time they’re done. The Motiño translation/feast/KA&S research and presentation.  A heavily blackworked 16th century shirt. Weaving. Spinning. The Great Baltic Mapping Project. The costume directory.

I love the process involved in these crazy, massive-scale projects, but I also get frustrated and discouraged sometimes with them on a more abstract level. Mostly it’s when I’m talking to other people about my work – when our A&S officer is collecting anecdata for the monthly report and it’s, “yep, still working on that same thing… again…” Or when I realize, while sitting companionably with a friend sewing at an event  in the fall, that I was sitting with the same friend, working on the same project, at the same event the previous year – that happened this weekend! Or when I see something really cool come across the works-in-progress Facebook group my Laurel administers, and once again, I have nothing to contribute.

Last week I started a new spinning project – the first step in a bigger endeavor, of course – and in the course of a 110-minute movie, I spun up 70 yards of size 2/3 silk embroidery thread. It was so satisfying to just see something come together, to hold a finished skein in my hand at the end of the evening.  I think I need a little more instant gratification in my life! Convenient, then, that it’s coming into the holiday and feast season. So! Banners. Cosmetics. Spice blends. Small gifts of block-printed stationery. I suddenly have so many ideas!

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Filed under meta, sca life, textiles

Half the work.

I’ve really slacked off on updating this blog in the last eight months or so – there’s been a lot of unbelievably intense personal stuff going on, and although I’ve continued to be active in the SCA (oh, so very active!) I haven’t been documenting.

Going through some of my old Livejournal posts trying to recall a particular sentiment that was just out of reach, I finally found it, right after Battlemoor II:

Madhavi wrote… but there has to come a point where documenting your work takes up more time than the work itself, you know?

I replied… I’m trying to think of it as part of the work – that the output of the project is not just the physical object itself, but also the collection of sources, processes and developments, etc. So that the next person who comes along doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

I’m so bad at that kind of thing, the prep-work and background work, but I’m trying to forcibly train myself to be more cheerful and meticulous about it – as Elizabeth Wayland Barber points out, nobody wants to warp because it’s just fussy boring prep-work, but we tend to forget that warping isn’t getting ready to weave, it’s half the cloth. Documentation is half the work.

Over the next two weeks, I’m going to get up a series of posts on the Great Catalonian Cooking Adventure, which has eaten a large part of the last six months, and particular on Corazon del Leon I. At the same time, I’m going to be starting some new projects. And there’s a very active summer season coming up, and some leisure and breathing space to enjoy it.

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