The First Round of “Ask Me Anything” Answers!

Sorry this took a bit, I was hoping to get a few more, but this is a good start.

I think I did myself, and everybody, a great disservice by saying I would help with general medieval information. I sat here and derped pretty hard, so, for future questions, please keep them limited to Roman/Byzantine only for my own sanity, and for the sake of the querents getting a decent answer. Questions can be sent to syrakousina -at- gmail.com. (remember to remove -at- and replace with @, no spaces.)

 

Libby: Do you know of a survey of band weaving finds from 13th century and earlier?

I’m afraid I do not. Since I don’t weave more than an inkle band here and there, it’s just not something I look for. If somebody else sees this, hopefully they can chime in down in the comments to get you where you need to go. You honestly will have better luck in a weaving group on Facebook than I can find you in 3 minutes of google searching.

 Nicola: I am a fan of your blog and enjoy seeing your research and the work you do for your SCA persona and the community as a whole. I’m a LARPer over in the UK and was wondering how you keep the veils and layers of headdresses in place. The persona I’m currently playing is from medieval times but practical hints and tips would be very interesting to read about, if you’re willing to write about something a little more off topic.

You need to use bands, and pin the veil to the band. This is a period method, and you can really impress your LARPer friends. I’ve used this guide now for years: http://www.virtue.to/articles/veils.html Now, I’ve made some adjustment since my hair was so short for years, but now I’m growing it out. I’ve found that in a pinch when my hair was in a pixie cut, white cotton headbands you can buy at the drugstore do the job since they really aren’t going to slide anywhere. Now that I have shoulder-length hair, I cap it up first. You can see it a bit here with my 11th Century veil. The cap beneath my veil holds back all of my hair, and then the silk veil is pinned over it, allowing my coronet to just sit on top and not have to be shoved onto my head, or cause more weight. The gentlewoman to my right in the veil is also wearing a cap beneath hers, and you can see the pins better.

 

Dyonisia: So I have been fascinated with hoods for a while now. I make them and end up giving them away. But i also want to get research information on them. My focus is from 1000-1600.  I also am looking for any embroidery that are on those hoods. Any help would be wonderful.

I am also interested in shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at what was shipped and where they were going. I am looking at 1200-1600. Any resources ect. would help.

This is a really really REALLY broad topic that I feel could benefit from narrowing down into a specific time and place so you aren’t overwhelmed. Fashion changes a lot over the span of 500 years, and since you did not give a location, I’m going to tell you what I know regarding my area of expertise. I recommend breaking down your project and focusing on one hood from one place at a time, otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and find nothing.

Disclaimer: I’m not an embroiderer, and as far as my personal scope of research goes, you won’t find much at least in the Byzantine area. They were more into woven designs that were appliqued on. As far as if this applied to hoods, I’m not sure. The Byzantines were not “hood wearers” like you see in the western part of the continent. The one hooded garment that you see commonly is called a “paenula”, a very simple hooded poncho that goes back to Roman times. After the 6th Century, you don’t see it too much outside of iconographic interpretation, which makes me think that maybe it fell out of style in the cosmopolitan areas during the early centuries, but maintained part of the traditional imagery we still have today. The climate in the Eastern Mediterranean is different than say, France, so hooded garments seemed to be pushed to the wayside for turbans, veils, and other headwear. Seeing gold work on turbans was common. The type of design is referred to as “grammata” in the original Greek, so basically golden letters, possibly pseudo-Kufic script. Of course, paenulae may have still been used in the countryside as a functional garment, but most depictions of working class Byzantines show little to no embellishment. Who the heck wants to clean mud off of expensive, time-consuming embroidery?

On the subject of your interest in shipping, again, you need to narrow this down. You have a 400-year timespan, and no specific culture or ports in mind. From 1200-1400, the crusades dominated the Eastern Mediterranean as well, with the Fourth Crusade wrecking the commerce of the Byzantine Empire for the remainder of its existence.

I do love your enthusiasm, but let me give you some helpful research tips to make your massive interests work a bit smoother in your favor. I feel like you really don’t know where to start, which is why you’ve asked me such broad questions, and that’s okay, we all have humble beginnings.

 A good rule of thumb is: if your Google search isn’t coming back with anything, narrow it down until it does. “Medieval hoods 1000-1600” is going to probably give you a Pinterest, while “extant medieval hood” is going to give you images of stuff that is still around from museum databases. “Hoods worn in medieval France” is going to give you better answers. Head right to the Met or British Museum websites and look up their collections, they’re here to help! Same with your interest in shipping. This is where getting into the fun journal databases will be a huge advantage. You can even pop over to JSTOR and put in some search terms. I found this article first shot just typing in “medieval Mediterranean shipping”: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1kgqt6m Chances are, you have friends with JSTOR or library access that can help you get the material. If this is something you really want to focus on, it may be worthwhile to invest in an account. Who knows, you could end up getting enough material to write your own Compleat Anachronist! Good luck!

Marc: I found your blog via a search on Byzantine costuming – and noted that you’re up to answering questions about same.

Well, I have a perhaps atypical one: I’m finishing in the details of a story set in early 14th Century Trebizond, and I haven’t been able to put together visually a wedding dress for one of the legendary Trapezuntine princesses. I have some vague piecemeal ideas, shoulder panels covered with pearls, etc. and I can draw a little from Pisanello’s St. George and the Princess of Trebizond, but I really can’t imagine what a wedding gown at that level of Byzantine society would look like – particularly the colors.

 You’re actually in luck, because Maria Parani has written a great article on this, and it’s available for free on Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/578063/_Byzantine_Bridal_Costume_in_%CE%94%CF%8E%CF%81%CE%B7%CE%BC%CE%B1._A_Tribute_to_the_A._G._Leventis_Foundation_on_the_Occasion_of_Its_20th_Anniversary_Nicosia_2000_185-216  

Hopefully this gives you the answer you’re looking for. I could cite it, but having the whole article in your face is probably better than whatever I could blab. Good luck with your novel!

Ask me anything!

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.

Got a question for me?

Hit me up at syrakousina at gmail.com.

Icon do it! St. Lucia of Syracuse icon completed!

So last spring after another botched attempt at iconography, I was prepared to give up the art form entirely. I’m not a painter, and the stuff I draw primarily is Japanese anime, which is, uh, so not period or even appropriate for icons at all.

This fall, I was asked to offer my skills as an artisan to the East Kingdom gift baskets to be given out at Pennsic. I accepted, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided, reluctantly, to pick up the brush again, but first I needed to practice.

I invested in new supplies: new pigment colors, new brushes, real gesso, and bole and olifa from an icon supply place on the internet.  I also went and got some real gold leaf, despite still having way too much composite from my previous projects I should use up first. I have silver and copper composite leaves that I picked up cheap from an art supply store locally, so I wondered if they would be of any use on practice pieces before I potentially wasted the good stuff.

Most icons are done in gold, but there are a few in silver encasement. After I did some digging, I did find this 11th Century icon with embossed silver leaf, so I figured that was at least some evidence that silver was being used in period on icons.  I used this as an excuse to blow through 4 sheets of composite silver on this piece.

silver_icon
Embossed silver icon from the 11th Century.

I chose St. Lucia since she was from the same town as my persona. Local saints were prized in the Middle Ages, and that’s a good enough reason to assume that I would have strongly venerated her. She is also a patron of seamstresses, so a little saintly intervention in the sewing room can’t hurt. 😉 There’s plenty of modern icons patterns to choose from on the internet, so I picked the one I wanted, grabbed one of my remaining Gessobords (This one is 9″x12″), played with carbon paper, and followed the same steps as I did previously, only on the pretense of leafing all the things. The leafing took about 3 hours. Even with the larger sheets of fake stuff.

lucia_bole lucia_silverprocesslucia_silver

I soon learned that embossing composite leaf was not going to work. I did more damage than anything, so I repaired the leaf where I borked it up, and decided to leave it flat. There’s plenty of flat gold icons. I may not be able to find a flat silver one, but we’ll call this a creative anachronism. (I mean, composite after all.)

So the painting started, with the layers being applied over several days. Mostly snow days, thanks to the lovely winter we’re having in New England. (Lovely as in @@#!#$$!!!!)

lucia_roskrishlucia_highlight2

I started to get nervous as I began to work toward the upper most highlight layers, this is where I had screwed up before. So, taking deep breaths, and using my new, thin brushes, I worked carefully, putting in no more than 2 hours a day over the course of about 7 days total. The finished results shocked me, they shocked my husband, they shocked my friends. I couldn’t believe I pulled off an icon that well, looked like an icon.

lucia_highlight3lucia_almostdonelucia_done1 lucia_done2 lucia_done3

I did it! I really actually DID IT. The best part is that she’s for meeeeee! I get to keep her and admire her next to poor Archangel Michael and show her off in displays without feeling mortified at my attempt.

The only real thing I don’t think I will ever do again is leaf or gild an entire panel. It was a pain it the butt to paint over where it accidentally got on the drawing. In fact, her halo and inscription are actually in acrylic. I had to cheat in order to get anything on the leaf. I’m sure that the real gold won’t act like the fake stuff, but I’m not about to try it right now and find out. Let’s get better at what I’m doing before I start ruining sheets of 22k gold.

In the mean time, Lucia is aging over the next week or so before I seal the leaf and oil the painting with olifa. And I plan to bring her and some other goods with me up to Montreal for King and Queen’s Arts and Sciences next month.

I also re-did my Iconography page with a more complete gallery and link to my tagged archive. Do go check it out.

Overdue Modifications to the Norman Longdress.

I need to confess that I name my nice garb. I do. If it hangs up in the closet and doesn’t get balled up and thrown in a tub for camping season, it has a name.

For example, my heavily pearled gold delmatikion is my Dalek Dress. I didn’t name it that, but it stuck, and I certainly did want to exterminate all the things by the time I was finished beading it the first time around. My Turkish fencing coat is the Portuguese Whirling Dervish, because of the colors, and my Buccaneers-inspired Elizabethan from last Birka is the Traffic ConeMy burgundy bliaut is the Norman Longdress, because long dress is long. Much like the longcat of internet yore.

Longcat is Long.

I told you. Long dress is long.

I didn’t fix it last year after I wore it to Smoking Rocks Baronial Investiture, and it’s been sitting in my closet since. Not that anything was terribly wrong with it, but I didn’t have a lacing up one side to create the ruching effect that Norman women found ever-so-sexy. So I simply made the dress tighter, and hoped for the best. It worked, but not that well.

Since the local 12th Night event that I attend in the Barony of Smoking Rocks is usually 11th Century Norman and/or Saxon, I figured that’s where I would get the most bang for my buck with this floor dragger. I didn’t wear it last year since we did a murder mystery in which Anna as a Byzantine needed to be present, so this year, I FINALLY get to wear it again. Time to get the lacings in.

Fortunately for myself, I had some sort of plan when I sewed the thing, and left the side seams unfinished so I could pop one for the lacings. This made me more happy that it probably should have. So I split the right side of the dress from the upper arm to the hip, hemmed it, and got to play with my machine’s buttonhole function 41 times. In theory and practice, yes, I should be doing eyelets by hand, but I assure you all that my machine does a way better job than I can do, and in a quarter of the time. Cheating? Yeah, probably. Utilitarian? Very yes.

So here’s the first look, before I put on the girdle. You can see how the lacing (spiraled, I should mention that) draws up the length of the dress to create the desired wrinkles. The “I’m so important I can afford extra fabric to just wrinkle around mah belly” look.

bliaut1bliaut4

And here’s with the girdle, which after doing the requisite dancing around the house, is necessary. The design is not only decorative, but it holds the ruching in place in the front. Otherwise, you’re going to walk on your dress and faceplant. I wonder how many Norman women fell down the stairs before they figured this one out.

bliaut3bliaut2

My husband didn’t even pull it as tight as it could go. I wonder if we really yanked it around my chest if it would draw up the fabric more. The torso is approximately a foot longer than my own to allow for this extra gathering. My underdress is tailored normally. Each have 4 gores instead of just on the sides to allow for very full skirting. It is HEAVY, and when I spin around I feel like a princess, and then try not to fall.

I do think that the bliaut itself would be far more beneficial in wool than linen. I can’t afford that much dress-weight wool right now, but the stretching and conforming to a shape with body heat versus the less pliability of linen would make a HUGE difference. So those reading this post to get ideas, I would recommend that if you can swing it. If not, linen is a perfectly fine choice.

I’m hoping to finally get REAL pictures of me in this dress next to my Lord in his Norman. So we’re finally in the same time period at the same time. Once I eventually make him real Byzantine on par with my own instead of the one tunic he occasionally wears when I order him to, we can have a set of good photos for things such as holiday cards, and gifts for our families who think us terribly weird. 😀

My very heraldic Christmas and Io Saturnalia!

My lord had to go do Navy things for a few months, so when I should have been studying for school, I sewed things.

I also found out that Santa Claus can read heraldry! You see, we stayed home for the holidays this year when both of us usually travel, sometimes in opposite directions to keep both families happy, so we had no decorations. None. Zip. So  I was shopping for the necessary trimmings, and found that they’re all way too expensive and I didn’t like them all anyway. So I went to Joann’s, dropped $60 in supplies, and went to work.

Here’s our heraldically (is word?) influenced tree skirt, hand appliqued, lined in horrible plaid with fringy fringe that was more of a pain in the butt than it probably should have been:

treeskirt

And our heraldically correct stockings, you know, instead of writing our names in puffy paint:

stockings

But modern Christmas is not terribly period ,but it sure is pretty. So, I decided to try Saturnalia from the 17th-23rd of December for the first time this year, and we definitely had fun! We set up a household altar with Roman goodies: an amphora, a cup of wine and a cup of olive oil, lamps, and I had a tea light for each night of the festival (how, uh, syncretic of me.) Each day the lord and I would make an “offering” to Saturn in the ways of whatever we had around. This varied from my actual Roman artifact rings, to a cheap rhinestone ring, amber necklace, chunk of shortbread, coffee, and Geoffrey’s Dungeons and Dragons Elementals. I am not even kidding.

saturn1
The First Day of Saturnalia.
saturn2
The star lamp would have been very appealing to the Romans, who were fond of gilding all the things with gold suns and stars for the festival. I kept it lit the entire 7 days.
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The last night of the festival with all the goodies we offered! Rainbow Brite pillowcase from the 80s and chopsticks my husband brought me home from Guam. Why not?! I was burning some extra candles since we weren’t home for a couple of nights.
saturn3
The magnet on my car. Complete with some New Hampshire December ice and grime.

It was all in the spirit of the season, and trying to feel as the Romans would have felt. Every holiday in December has one thing in common: The solstice and the return of light at the darkest part of the year. So I’m a big fan of setting things on fire or putting a mere 1500 lights on my balcony and 400 lights on my tree.

flamingo
And lawn flamingos. Nothing screams winter like pink plastic.

Most of all, we had FUN. I hope everyone else had fun with the holidays this week, also!

Felicem Dies Natalis Sol Invicti!
Καλά Χριστούγεννα!
Or as my friends say, “Happy Lights!”

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year, and I’ll catch you all on the flip side with some neat info on Byzantine outerwear, and the upcoming garb challenge at Birka!

A review of FutureLearn’s course on “Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier”

Readers of my blog will probably recall a post I made not long ago, well, six weeks ago to be exact, on my beginning of a course on FutureLearn. I reblogged a post “Who built the wall?” when the course started, and now I feel urged to share a poem by Rudyard Kipling, “The Roman Centurion’s Song”. It’s that feeling you get when you finish a good book, that emptiness that comes with completion. I guess I didn’t expect to feel this way, but that’s a good thing! That means that FutureLearn and Newcastle University have done their jobs. For a free online course, it was OUTSTANDING.

A little bit about the breakdown of the course:

Each week had about 20 short sections to complete. They ranged from short videos, to articles, and quizzes. The quizzes don’t count against your grade, they were just a learning tool. Every 2 weeks there was an actual test, culminating with the final test at the end of the 6th week (That one had some curveballs in it.) My favorite part were the little forensic challenges that happened every other week or so. You would be given an archaeological find of bones, and then try to determine cause of death, gender, etc from the clues given in an article. It was a great insight into the grim world of forensic archaeology.

The Vindolanda tablets were totally awesome. I had heard about them before, but never actively went seeking them. I really suggest taking a look at them here. Learning a bit more about the religious syncretism that occurred at the wall and methods of worship was also incredibly fascinating.

In addition, the discussions that were had were also great. Each section has a discussion area that functions like a social media platform, in which one could post an answer or topic of discussion and receive answers, sometimes even by the staff at the University, who was actively engaging with the MOOC the entire time.

Here’s Newcastle University’s blog of their experience: https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/numoocs/

I do believe you can still check out the course. Go to https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall/ and see for yourself. I may have also totally taken the bait, but Newcastle University may be on the list of schools I look into for my PhD. But that’s a ways off yet, let me finish my MA first!

Thank you to the staff at Newcastle University and FutureLearn for offering this experience. I’ve already enrolled in an upcoming course, also through FutureLearn, on the archaeology of Portus which is being given by the University of Southampton, another UK school. I look forward to checking that out in January. 🙂

 

 

 

 

I swear, I’m not dead.

I started my MA degree this fall at the University of New Hampshire, and needless to say, it’s been keeping me a bit busy. I am doing what research I can, and hitting all sorts of amazing conferences, such as last weekend’s New England Renaissance Conference in which the topic was Credit and Debit in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Totally a fascinating topic I never even thought to look into before.

In 2 weeks there is an event in the Barony of Carolingia, our neighbors to the south of Stonemarche, called Voyages of Discovery, and A&S Colloquium. It is a mundane clothes dress academic conference with Scadians in mind. I will be presenting my paper on Suetonius’ biography of Domitian, and my analysis using contemporary sources. It’s one of my undergraduate works, but it was my writing sample to get into graduate school, and apparently did the job.

I also plan to prepare my propoloma article from here on this blog for publishing in Ars Scientia Orientalis, the East Kingdom A&S Journal, much like my silk paper was. So yes,  even though I haven’t been crafty, I’ve still been busy!

 

I do have some slow-coming work in progress on Byzantine outerwear. Look for that in the coming weeks.