So, while I’m taking a short break from heavy SCA sewing and research, I want everybody to help me keep my brain ticking.
Every week, or however often I get questions, I’m going to have a question/answer column here on my blog. Feel free to ask me anything about Roman and Byzantine history, textiles, clothing, etc, and I’ll give you a complete answer, or as complete as I can, with citations to send you on your way. General ancient and medieval history questions can also be fielded if you’re looking for something more broad.
If this gets busy, I don’t know how many questions I’ll be able to answer, but I’ll do my best to make sure that everybody is covered.
We always see them: the funky printed cottons in the stores. Sometimes we can’t resist, and then we wonder why the heck we bought it in the first place. Clearly, you can’t make garb out of silly prints!
Or can you?
This summer, I had a weird awakening. It’s no secret to my readers and friends that I’ve pretty much busted my rump this last year on research in Byzantine dress. From investing the money in Sartor fabrics to finding some of the best linens and trims I could to make a splash dropping my 12th Century side-eye skills, and spending 4 months on a master’s thesis where I dug into an 11th century will, I sort of put on a display this year like some swaggering Byzantine peacock (Byzancock? Argh, no, bad term, there.) It worked, and I’m exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of new exciting things out there waiting for me to sew, like my upcoming foray into Sassanian Persian for my husband and I, only because I hate money and I dropped it like it was on fire at Sartor while at Pennsic.
I am no longer in school, and working freelance back in the graphic novel industry, so yeah, I have the time to play with sewing again. Sassanian will be fun, it’s something I’ve wanted to examine for a while as a predecessor to my period’s Silk Road fashion. Plus, I think there are cool hats involved.
I digress, we came here to talk about fun garb, not Anna and Gieffrei’s soon-to-exist “you spent HOW MUCH on that silk?” Sassanian Persian with dorfy hats. Fun garb. How’s this?
Yes. I did.
Go ahead, clutch your pearls, get a shot of bourbon, whatever it takes. I made this garb. And I wore it too. At Pennsic for a party. Yep.
A lot of my friends think that I have this over-the-top obsession with flamingos. In fact, I really don’t. I just love tacky lawn flamingos. Now, Mistress Vibeke Steensdottir back in the East Kingdom? Now SHE’S the awesome flamingo maven, complete with flamingo wing heraldry. She was the first person I know to document flamingos in period, so really if anybody deserves the credit for flamingo adoration, it’s her, not me.
I own pink lawn flamingos because I bought them for holiday decorations. I got mad at my former apartment complex for having stingy rules about decor and “religious” exemptions, and went a little nuts. They also look hilarious in snowbanks.
But anyways, yes. The short story is that the flamingo fabric magically appeared in my shopping cart at Joann’s during a sale event on red tag materials and then it came home with me. My initial intent was not garb, even though I joked about it online. It was going to be curtains or a sundress, or something festive to add to my Flamingomas decor. I mean, it’s a printed cotton twill. It would make crappy garb, and probably get me some sneers if I did it anyway.
Fast forward, I graduate, I move across the country, I’m unpacking my fabric onto my shelves, and I see those flamingos staring right back up at me. And that’s when I remembered something.
Let’s take a closer look:
Two out of three women in this section are wearing gowns with some form of obvious waterfowl, probably geese or ducks, maybe even in a way for the artists to mock Theodora and her former profession, but it’s pretty clear. So yeah, waterfowl on Byzantine garb, check.
But seriously, flamingos?
Now, I’ve seen this thing in person at the Cloisters. Those birds are screaming pink. Yes, they have green ones facing them, but that pink is deliberate. Sure it says swans or herons, but you know, we all know. Who makes deliberate acid-pink birds on a chasuble and wants us to think “swan”? Okay, that’s a stretch. I know.
Want even more of a stretch? You’re probably wondering how I justified having a cotton tunic? A printed one at that. Well, recent research has let me to uncover a booming cotton industry in Anatolia, but also, that printed cotton fabrics were coming out of Persia during the Middle Ages. Like this example from the 11th Century.
So basically, what I just did was stunt document a 6th Century flamingo dalmatica by using objects from the 6th, 11th, and 15th Centuries from 3 different cultures. It’s not something that will pass an A&S competition, so please don’t try this and tell your judges I said it was okay, but it was a way for me to appease my accuracy-brain for the sake of fun. We do this for fun, and it’s still okay to have fun.
Now, don’t go making yourself a closet of these things and brag that my blog told you it was okay. Make one. Wear it to a party or to a silly garb event. See if you can document some shapes and techniques and turn it into a conversation piece, which is basically what I did with mine.
“Hey, did you know that printed cotton is period? This tunic is silly, but let me tell you about this fragment I found while doing research…” Seriously, it sparked some great interest in printed textiles, which is already a growing trend in the SCA. So, why not see what direction a goofy idea can take you for your next big project?
On another note.
Speaking of authenticity brain…
The funny thing is that why I was planning the Fowl Dalmatica (yes, that’s what I call it), a bunch of friends were checking out Duchess Aikaterine’s tutorial on Youtube on how to make a Roman stola out of a sari.
I’ve had this love/hate relationship with saris being used for Roman garb for the longest time. I love it because it looks amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s exotic, it looks decadent and exactly what a Roman woman would have loved. I hated them only because they weren’t period and refused to make one for myself. Which is kind of a stupid reason, considering I made Jeff and I’s Babylonian garb out of vintage saris, so I’m really a big fat hypocrite who got stuck in the authenticity brain pool, swimming in circles, versus letting myself have fun.
…So I did it. I regret nothing and I want to make more. Plus, her draping technique for the stola is way better than my pinched in neckline, and the front/back seams versus side seams may just make more sense.
I will say that it definitely doesn’t work as well with linen unless it’s a thin, hankie weight linen. I made one of a 5oz linen and it just didn’t…manifest at the shoulders like the cotton and the 3.5oz linen did. So keep that in mind should you try this pattern. I’m going to try again with that fine pink linen I just got in from Sartor (see above) since it’s rather sheer. It would make a lovely stola, and I do need to start dressing like I’m married more often.
The only real downside to wearing the thin sari cotton is that it’s clingy, so I’m not sure how well it would do as a chiton underneath. I picked up some more vintage saris from eBay to try, as well as a couple of real silk ones at Pennsic (by the way, if you bought the 4 for $100 silk sari deal at Pennsic, better burn test a swatch, I got 2 real silk ones, a totally poly one, which I knew and bought really only for craft purposes, and a nice art silk one that melted to the plate when I burned it, so yeah. Check your purchases.) DO NOT MAKE THIS OUT OF ART SILK. Art silk is not “real” silk, it’s short for artificial silk, and is usually a poly rayon blend. You will boil alive. Granted, in real silk you’ll boil too, so, pick your poison. I’m not sure if the Romans had access to cotton, even though it was being cultivated in Egypt and Persia pretty early, but it’s a far better option than dead dinosaur.
I’m going to be making some more lightweight Roman and Byzantine (which I’m calling the Byzanlite) for regular wear here in Caid. My garb arsenal was just not originally designed for events at 110F, but hey, for when we get a cold front in February, I guess I’m set.
So, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to shake off the stuffiness once in a while, and remember we do this for fun.
…Not that I don’t think hours on International Medieval Bibliography and making interlibrary loan requests isn’t still fun, mind you.
I have successfully transferred my domicile from the East Kingdom and the balmy tropics of New England, to the sunny and never-changing perfection that is Southern California.
I do have updates I need to get done, but I’m also planning for San Diego Comic-Con, and Pennsic AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, that’s right, I’m flying to Pennsic, which should be an interesting experience because I’m a lunatic and think this is good idea. I will also be teaching ONE class, due to streamlining my packing. (Help!)
That one class is entitled, “An 11th Century Byzantine Noblewoman’s Closet.” It’s a snippet of my research for my master’s thesis, and I look forward to sharing my knowledge. It is currently scheduled for August 6th at 1pm in A&S 8. I plan to have the handout posted within the next couple of weeks.
I hope everybody has a great war season, and I look forward to seeing many faces at Pennsic War. 🙂
Well, I’m moving, anyway. I’ve successfully completed my masters program, and I’m relocating to join my lord husband across the country at his naval posting. I have lots of cool stuff on my master’s thesis I can’t wait to share, but this blog will be on hold a bit while I pack up here in the East Kingdom, and get to my new home in Caid. I expect it will take several weeks to really settle in, considering I’m as East Coast as a hurricane smoking a clove, and I’m being transplanted to California.
I am teaching at Pennsic, (Yes, I’m flying from CA to PA, I’m insane) and will be posting more on that next month.
I hope everybody enjoys the start of summer, and I hope to see you all at a Caidan event soon! In the meantime, here’s a photo of me wearing my master’s project. Yeah, I got to make garb, talk about playing off of your strengths.
Over the last few weeks, I completed a new court outfit based on the Eisiterion of Agnes of France, dated to the 1180s. It’s later period for my persona, but I was intrigued by the differences between the 11th and 12th Century as far as shape and embellishment went, so I gave it a try.
Now, this is an outfit that is not for every day, or even minor courts, this is specific to very formal events, and comes from a manuscript in which the 9 year old princess from France is brought into Constantinople and converted to fabulous by 70 (!) women wearing these outfits. I don’t know about you guys, but if I was a little girl, and I had suddenly gotten surrounded by weirdos looking like this and speaking a foreign language, I’d probably be pretty intimidated. Pictures will enlarge to show better detail. Courtesy of the Vatican Archives and their epic digitization project.
The propoloma is more “shovel” shaped than my other one, and I embellished it to make a coronet. Same procedure as the other one: 2 layers of wool felt and it’s self-supporting. Embellishment is shot silk, mother of pearl cabochons set in fine silver cups because I hate money, but I don’t hate it too much, since the bezants are gold-plated brass. Silver is one thing, gold is another, and I can only get my husband to cave so much.
Curves are very difficult to deal with. I tried the tube method, and the seams were unruly the whole time. I opted for the more tedious clipped and pressing method, and despite unevenness that I can see, it came out fine. The kharzanion (trinity temple ornaments) are wrong, and temporary. Konstantia is making me a proper set, but we ran out of time. So, I opted for a pair of really ugly earrings my dad gave me as a, “Here, you do crafty things, find something to do with these.” And I did. They’re gaudy, but the whole outfit is pretty gaudy.
I made the delmatikion before the kamision. I wasn’t concerned about either, but I wanted to give it the time it deserved. The fabric is from Sartor.cz (Gird your wallets) and they called it the Oseberg textile. This is incorrect. It is a Persian textile that would have been available in period to Byzantium, but it is currently in a Japanese collection. Unfortunately, they only ran it in polyester, but as it’s in my heraldic colors, I couldn’t resist. The poly is super high quality, seriously, I never thought I would use “long staple polyester” in a sentence before, but I did. Aside from the expected fraying and nightmares associated iwth poly brocades, it sewed up really smoothly.
The Orange arm bars and neckline are made from the orange silk I purchased for my thesis project, which will be a post incoming upon completion. the arm bars were enhanced by some orange sari trim I had in my stash, and couched down faux pearls. The pearls on the neckline help hide the imperfections that probably only really bother me, but a Byzantine lady cannot have enough pearls. There’s no such thing, and, faux pearls are in fact, period.
The neckline itself is the side-keyhole design that pops up on some extant pieces. It closes with a shank button and loop. Here it is to the point of hanging up pre-hemming. The sleeves have a 36″ drop. THREE. FOOT. SLEEVES. Oh, and they’re lined in a very light gold dupioni. The manuscript shows a white visible lining, but I couldn’t go with just white.
The kamision I wanted to double as a basic dress for when I’m not wearing a delmatikion for court, but still have enough pizazz for nice indoor events. More fake pearls on the neck to simulate a superhumeral, and more fancy sari trim. The neck and cuffs are faced with a green and red shot dupioni. The body is Pompeiian Red linen. This was my climate control once I got to the event site, because over 600 people plus polyester is no good.
The sari trim on this MAKES the garment, because it’s not a difficult pattern, and I know it like the back of my hand. I made adjustments for the sleeves since I was using a different bolt width, but that’s it. This is one of those demonstrations where embellishment can change everything. It elevated a simple tunic dress from “okay” to “WOW”, while creating no more labor for me had I used a commercially available trim. Work smarter, not harder. Though, one day, I’ll learn to embroider this well. I really want to learn, but time is not on my side at the moment.
All together on the dress form:
I made a fast maforion (veil) out of a semi-oval piece of the same silk I used on the propoloma. Some women in the manuscript have bands of color on them, some don’t, and it doesn’t seem consistent with the bands on the hat, so I left it plain for now. It took some creative pinning on my snood, but it worked. I’ll probably take a series of photos showing how I did it eventually, but I am so overwhelmed with schoolwork right now, updating my blog is not top priority, and I apologize.
Here’s the requisite goofy pics at Coronation. My sleeves were unevenly draped, which is killing my OCD, but the silhouette was there. Lord Brenden Crane took the professional shots in our populace “photo booth”.
Oh, that side-eye pic was intentional. Byzantine side-eye is period. Here’s a shot from the same manuscript. The empress does not seem pleased at the emperor and his new friend.
I took a break from iconography for a while because I felt like my art wasn’t up to snuff, and I was thinking of giving up. By the way: never give up. I had the pleasure of working at the Museum of Russian Icons over the fall semester of 2015, and I learned a lot while I was there, including getting the change to work with the entire inventory, and examine, and touch, period icons. While I was there, I went ahead and purchased some better accurate pigments and more gold, and decided it was time to get back into the swing of things. Initially, I was going to try my hand at turning an icon into my husband’s backlog scroll for the Order of the Silver Crescent, but then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: Konstantia, my blue twin out in Calontir, was to receive her Herald Extraordinary, and the now-Gold Falcon Herald, Uji, invited me in on the shenanigans.
Initially, I was asked to just do the words. Here is what I came up with instead. Oops?
First, I purchased real icon boards from Pandora Iconography Supplies. It doesn’t have a kovcheg (recess), but that’s because those are expensive. Each 11×14″ board is $55 a piece as is, and custom made upon ordering. I tried my hand at gessoing my own panels, and uh, yeah, nothing beats the real thing by the professionals, even at the price.
So I laid it out, as you do. The pattern is from an actual 13th Century icon of St. Gabriel the Archangel (Herald of God, and the end of the world, and stuff.) and is still popular today.
Then I prepared the halo for gilding with real red clay bole, which I also purchased from Pandora. As you can see this go around, I also bole’d the edges. This is something I learned at the museum. It symbolizes the artist being mortal, and rough around the edges, therefore, it doesn’t get sanded and burnished like the halo does.
Note the thickness of the application here. This is vital to a good leaf adherence. You literally just puddle the liquid bole on, try not to get air bubbles, and let it dry.
After the nice thick layer of bole dried overnight, I burnished it with agate to bring out that blingy shine.
After the gold leaf (23kt double gold in this case) was down, the sankir and roskrish are applied, including real vermilion for the cloak. That’s mercury sulfide. You know, death in paint form. (To quote my grad school classmate and fellow SCAdian Wilhelm: “Only in the Middle Ages could something so mundanely boring potentially kill you.”) The stuff was like painting on a cloud though, but at $18 for a smidgin, I don’t see myself using it all the time. This was a special occasion that warranted potentially poisoning myself.
I tested the shell gold on the vermilion once it was dry to see how it would turn out, and decided yes.
And the highlighting process begins, with poor Gabriel looking as if he literally can’t even.
Some hot dry pigment action:
And then ALL THE SHELL GOLD. OMG, SO MUCH GOLD.
Roll that beautiful inscription footage, ah yiss…
And then, the actual “scroll” wording needed to go down. I based this on some period examples of text included in the borders of icons. I need to work on my lettering, but I think I did a fair job, considering this is my first icon “scroll” ever. I kept with the plain yellow ochre border, as it was an extremely common choice in period. It’s also affordable and predictable.
And DING! SCROLL IS DONE! Words are based on the Akathistos Hymn to Mary.
Gabriel can’t even. Literally.
Obviously, I had to send it from the East to Calontir, and I managed to sneak it in the mail the day I left for Spring Break. Now that it’s signed, she needs to send it back so I can apply the oil varnish and make sure that it’s protected properly.
Oh, the kicker? I did her garb for her Stepping-Down from Gold Falcon, and surprise Herald Extraordinary bestowal as well. 😉 Which at least, she commissioned and knew was coming.
I am so dead the next time I see her. *shifty eyes*
This is a very short disorganized blurb, and I apologize, but I wanted to get some notes down from what I’m exploring as far as my thesis goes.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my master’s thesis is exploring the last will and testament of Kale Pakouriane from 1098. I’m going into her inventory and trying to reconstruct her life from her material culture. One thing that really sticks out is the amount of mantles she has.
There are three different words for “cloak” or “mantle” in her will: mandyas, which I’ve already written up as the semi-circle one last year. The sagion, which was evidently shorter, apparently knee-length versus ankle-length, this is something Parani points out in Reconstructing the Reality of Images, and then the one line where my translation was getting extremely confused because of words is a garment that was allegedly called the thalassa, or “sea”. It was another type of cloak, but according to Dawson in his article within Varieties of Experience, there’s only a few mentions of it in written history, namely De Cerimoniis, where Constantine Porphyrogennetos refers to it as a gift for royalty, and in Kale’s will. He’s not sure why it’s named this, but narrows it down to having to do with a particularly luxurious fabric that could vary from a specific shot silk from the Arabian peninsula, or a blue/green/gray dyed COTTON from Persia or Hindustan. We just don’t know, and may never know.What this does mean, however, is that it was particularly luxurious.
What this project has taught me so far was that these mantles were a way to show off wealth and probably protect your equally luxurious clothing. Kale had an impressive wardrobe. I just ordered the French translation of the will and the scans of the actual Greek document. $200 later. Academia is stupid.
I know this is going to raise a lot of questions, but I don’t have all the answers yet. Please be patient while I work on this. My mundane life and graduate degree must come before anything SCA. I just wanted to get this information out. These little nuances will greatly change how we should project ourselves in 11th Century Byzantine clothing.
I managed to get back to the Met last month, and spend a whopping six hours there, never getting off the first floor. Again. Well, except for the Roman study rooms, but I digress. They have a really neat exhibit right now under the stairs in the Jaharis vault (where my favorite tunic was) that shows off some very cool painted liturgical linens from the late Roman/early Byzantine Egyptian period.
I’m going to start trying the technique, as it doesn’t look too daunting, it’s just egg tempera on linen, either pure white or dyed indigo. I figure if I can frame the fabric in an embroidery apparatus, it should work. As far as I know, the fabric wasn’t sized or gessoed prior to painting, at least it didn’t seem that way, so this could turn into a big mess. Should I succeed, I see a very nifty, period way to display heraldry indoors.
So I totally lied about doing updates over winter break. I am working on some sewing, but for the most part, I wanted to give my poor burned out brain some time to unwind after a particularly difficult semester.
Here’s a few important and interesting updates:
In June I will be relocating from the East Kingdom to the Kingdom of Caid. This will be a short-term relocation with an inevitable return to the East due to my husband’s naval career, but it will definitely affect my attendance at events to teach. I am planning on Pennsic this coming summer by flying into Pittsburgh, but I will NOT be at 50 Year. As much as I’d love to go, the timing with the move is making it impossible, and there is no way around this, as mundane life comes first. However, I am looking forward to infiltrating, I mean, attending, new events on the West Coast for the short period of time we will be out there. I will know more about schedules and such after the move and once my own employment is sorted out. Right now the ultimate goal is to secure temporary work as adjunct faculty within the San Diego Community College District, but there is no guarantee I will be offered a teaching appointment. But this blog isn’t about mundane stuffs…
The cool news is that this is the semester of The Thesis:
For my final project of my master’s degree, I am exploring the material culture of the Last Will and Testament of Kale Pakouriane, an 11th Century patrikia who entered a convent upon being widowed. I will be making a selection of her things.
MAKING THINGS. BYZANTINE THINGS. FOR THE SCHOOL LEARNIN’S.
I have not settled on which things yet, her inventory was impressive and I have three months. The primary goal of the project, in addition to making things, is actually attempting a reconstruction of her life from this inventory. This obviously includes her wealth, but also tangible goods, why she made the bequests that she did, and how class structure affected her decisions to leave lower household members with significant inheritances from her estate. I’m very excited about this project, and the bulk of my upcoming posts will be regarding this. I’m considering making a mundane blog for it, but I need to go over requirements with my academic committee first to see what they recommend. Either way, anything posted on a separate page will be mirrored here for the benefit of the SCA. Once completed, I’m going to submit it for publication in the form of a Compleat Anachronist.
I also have a short research paper on the Perception of Women during the Ancient Greek periods that will be published on the East Kingdom Gazette this week. Once that goes live, I will re-press it here.
I hope everybody is having a splendid New Year so far, and I look forward to sharing my progress on this epic project!