I’m using the generic term “himation” ( just “garment”) here for the overgarment shown in my source fresco. At the time, a delmatikion would have had the long exaggerated sleeves you see in my court garments. This appears to be a lesser gown. “Chiton” could also work, being a generic term for “tunic”, heck, it could also be “kamision”, but for the sake of ease, it’s himation for this one.
I basically copied what I saw, only using a different pattern than my usual to achieve the effects seen.
I mostly cut my garments simply, to allow for as much fabric as possible with minimal effort, basically, conspicuous consumption at its best. But for the common Byzantine folk, that would not have been cost effective. Fabric was woven narrowly, and garments were usually pieced much more than I do. So I went with that in mind, and cut narrow body panels, with sleeves and full side panel gores to allow for the width I needed for comfort. The connecting seam results in a nice guide for potamioi, should I be applying them. Tim Dawson has this pattern in his “By the Emperor’s Hand” book, and it’s also seen in contemporary Persian styles.
And to add to my misery (and authenticity), more Byzantine whipstitchings for all of the contrast work.
But the combo really looks sharp. And SOOOO much better belted because of the blockier shape from the seam placements. I really do not personally enjoy the aesthetic of the elongated sides because of the straight grain, but the fresco and other sources show this as a common feature, so I replicated that. This can be avoided by cutting gores on the bias. The seam placements look sharp, though, and it is so much easier than inserting a gusset, but definitely not as easy as a rounded underarm as I normally cut.
I belted it using my hand-tooled leather apprentice belt with my Syrian buckle. After hiking with it (forthcoming post), I think one of my normal cloth or woven belts would be more comfortable. Of course, I had to test the sleeves.
And voila, the clothing was done.
And here’s the source fresco again as a refresher.
Next week at a Trimarian event called “Corsair’s Heart”, Mistress Mayken van der Alst is coordinating a Medieval Hike! I decided that this sounded more in my wheelhouse than an entry into the Birka Garb Challenge, so I chose to go full bore and see what I could come up with.
The short answer: A middle/working class Byzantine ensemble that would be comfortable for hiking in. The hilarious thing is that I don’t own anything lower class, or uh, casual.
But for real, in period, in persona, I would have been carried to Jerusalem in a litter, or rode in the back of a carriage. If I was “roughing it”, I would be on my own horse. Walking? Bah!
But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to walk, and wear and carry something that I could walk in, comfortably.
Better start at the bottom. Layer that is.
In my searching for *sigh* casual Byzantine, which, by the way, not that easy, I found a Cappadocian fresco that is contemporary to my period. Here, a midwife and Salome bathe the infant Jesus and his rippling man-pecks of the Divine.
Everything here seemed perfect. You have women working, wearing clothing indicative of an arid climate that would have been passed through to continue to the Holy Land. The colors are great, and my favorite part? The Midwife’s SLEEVES:
I determined it was either one of two things: A guard that was slung over the shoulders to allow her to pull her clothing back and away for midwifery duties, or, slits in a tunic designed to do this, again, for her profession. Both are plausible, of course, but I decided to test the theory on a tunic, as it’s also supported by some of the work Dr. Timothy Dawson has done with kavadion/gambesons whereas the underarm is open, and the padded long sleeve can be pinned back for more movement.
This is what I came up with.
The base pattern for the esoforion (undershirt), is the Manazan Caves Tunic, which I’ve used before for some shirts for the hubby here. The reasons I decided to go forward with one of these for myself were: A; The high collar is good for protecting against the elements. B: The extant tunic is contemporary to Cappadocia, but not in the same location. The Manazan Caves are in present day Karaman, Turkey, and the Dark Church is in present day Goreme. This is a distance of about 270km. That doesn’t mean that these settlements weren’t in contact, and it’s still close enough for approximation of Cappadocian fashion. C: The long gore construction of the Manazan find would work well with allowing a ton of ease and slack on the arms for slits in the sleeves.
So, with my pile of 3.5oz natural linen, I set off on an adventure. I determined that the sleeves would have to be longer to pull this off, but since that was a Persian trend that had trickled into Byzantine fashion and stayed, I had no qualms with some potentially droopy sleeves. I also ended up hand-sewing the entire collar, and all openings/hems. There are only 6 machine sewn seams in the whole thing, not bad. I do want to do an entirely hand-sewn one of these, and I have the fabric to do it, so I figured this would be good practice. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about this tunic, hand sewing the collar construction is a must, anyway. It just won’t work right with a machine. Good thing too, because after the couple days it took me to complete the collar setup, I returned to the machine, and promptly sewed a full stitch through my left index finger, INCLUDING THE NAIL. Typing hurts right now, but it’s healing. I guess that’s a sign I should keep on my hand work practice.
So much whipstitching, man. The Byzantines loved them some whipstitch.
Tacking down the inside facing.
Seeing the hand stitching on the outside.
Putting the placket over the front.
Attaching the band collar.
Finished handsewn collar.
Whipstitching the whole darn hem! I usually use a blind hem stitch, but it’s really not accurate.
I decided on the arm slit placement after basting the side seams together, and looking at fit. Each slit is 8″ out of the front seam that connects the gore. I then cut the basting, turned in a hem, and it was done. Zero fuss, and zero fabric waste or odd cuts into the garment.
The pictures speak for themselves. It works. The placement of the uber-long gore makes for a full range of movement, and as you can see, I can still create more slack to go over an outer tunic.
This garment is more than practical for just midwifery. While on pilgrimage, it would be beneficial to cover your skin for sun protection, and the long sleeves still allow for this. But, if I get too hot, or need to cook/set camp/do dirty work, I can tie my sleeves back and be comfortable doing so. Genius.
I’m going to use a tie on the front of the collar this time, versus a button and loop as I did for Gieffrei, because I feel it will allow me to adjust fit and function better during the hike. I can inkle weave a small band easy enough in an hour on my little loom.
Of course, the outer garment is next after that. I’m following through with the color scheme of the fresco, especially the look that Salome is wearing on the right. I have a block printed cotton I will be using for the turban to match the Cappadocian look, as well.
My final touches will be a shoulder bag, and a relic bag for my belt. If I can find out more, I want to research into accurate ankle support as well, only because I’m a chronic sprainer and could use the, uh, help. These will all be completed over the course of the next week, and I’m looking forward to pulling it all together for the hike!
Probably the crappiest attempt at 17th C. Imperial Russian you’ll ever see, but it was coated in bling so it doesn’t matter.
This story begins, as so many do, with the quintessential opening of, “So no sh*t, there I was…” It was February of 2016. I was at a tiny pop culture convention at UConn with some friends who I’ve known in the comic artist circuit for no less than googlety years.
…Yes, I draw, by the way. My first degree is in art, and I’ve been working on and off in the pop culture industry now since 2002. The latest thing I churned out was this Master Chief for my brother-in law. This is not relevant to my post. I just wanted to show it off because I slayed that bristol board.
Long story short, I had secured badges for San Diego Comic-Con International, yes, the big one, and I was chatting it up with a friend in our hotel room on a freezing cold night in Storrs, CT. She randomly suggested something along the lines of, “You should totally do a historically accurate Black Widow.” And I only half heard it. So while she was talking about art, I heard “costume for Comic-Con”, and the rest was history.
The kicker was getting in a position to make it before the con. Our move from New Hampshire to California had already been scheduled, and I was in the middle of writing and sewing my thesis. So what it came down to was waiting until I actually lived in San Diego to get started. This would not have been so bad, if we didn’t wait a month for our household goods to come in. When all was said and done, I had 3 weeks to pull it together. I began ordering supplies before I had a sewing machine in my house, and basically launched this project on a Hail Mary.
Since I made this for convention cosplay, versus SCA wear, I decided to focus on the look of the costumes from the 1903 Ball at the Winter Palace, in which the theme was to wear 17th Century court dress. So it was already going to be anachronistic in addition to costumey. I chose the look of the coat of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, sister of Czar Nicholas II, and the kokoshnik from another noblewoman.
I shorted the hem of the layers to make sure I wouldn’t trip and fall in a convention center. I used every machine trick I had to save time, and collected plastic beads, rhinestones, vintage beaded trims, buttons with black widow spiders on them, and embroidered patches churned out on a friend’s embroidery machine. In the end, most of the handwork involved was just on the kokoshnik. I threw lace on the forehead instead of beads, because I don’t know how to do that type of beading and there was like zero time to try to learn. The patterns are overly simplified to facilitate speed. I’m pretty sure Russian coats were not made like t-tunics.
I was sewing up to the night I wore it, but it paid off in the end: I was awarded a hall costume blue ribbon from the Hollywood Costumer’s Guild, and got to meet Terry Dresbach, the former costume designer from “Outlander”, who immediately recognized my attempt at a historical version of Black Widow. I didn’t get my picture with her, but I did with others from their group.
Here is a full gallery of the construction and wearing of the costume at SDCC. Note the crazy nuances like my makeup, and nose ring. This was never intended for SCA wear, it’s more like a Las Vegas Imperial Russian.
And then the costume got put away in my closet, and came out again for Costume College in 2017, but I didn’t wear it.
And then the 2019 Birka Garb Challenge was announced as “Marvel and DC Superheroes and Villains”, and I was like, “Well, okay. I’m skipping this one. Unfair.” And then I got talked back into it. Originally, I was going to enter as Thanos in full crazy 12th Century Byzantine complete with chased and repoussed “armor” as a loros, and then decided I didn’t want to do that much work. So, I backed out again, in prep of doing the medieval persona hike here in Trimaris in February at Corsair’s Heart, which I figured would give me a better avenue for re-wearable garb.
…And then I got asked to trot this haute mess back out. Since nobody back in the East Kingdom actually saw it in person, I had a few people who really wanted me to bring it. I had even more people who didn’t remember, or know, that I did this, so when I posted a few pics to social media that one was coming out of the vaults, I think it really intimidated a lot of other participants. For their benefit, and my own, I decided I wouldn’t enter the fashion show, and opted in to judging it instead, which, honestly, was so much fun, I would totally do it again. I loved sitting on the panel and admiring all of the entries with the other judges, TRM East, Her Highness East, and Her Highness Atlantia. We had an absolute blast.
So yeah, if you saw this, and wondered what the frack it was, this is what it was. The ribbon hangs in my studio, underneath a ribbon I won at Arisia 2009 for my first ever Byzantine ensemble. They’re a nice reminder to stay humble. 😉
I field more emails and more online questions about the Varangian Guard than I do actual Byzantine personae. I lifted most of the information below from my Byzantine Personal Basics page above, but I’ve included a bibliography to hopefully help those on the path find what they’re looking for.
I’m going to preface this by saying that I have nothing against Varangian personae, but I’m about to be very blunt: Varangians are not Byzantine.
The Romans viewed them as barbarians and outsiders, and despite the fun tales from the Norse Sagas, chances are, they weren’t well liked in the City. The truth of the matter is that there are currently more Varangians in the SCA than there ever was serving an emperor at one point in time due to the fact that it gives Norse personae an excuse to wear lamellar when it’s hot (which is fine, we don’t need anybody dropping dead at war, please). Not everybody could show up at the Blachernae Palace steps from somewhere up North and demand they be admitted into service to the Purple. It was a bit more complicated than that, and each emperor had different requirements. Not to mention, Varangians were only predominantly Norse for a short period of time in the mid 11th Century if we assume what the Sagas say is true.
The first Varangian Guard was not established until the late 10th Century (around 980) when Basil II was given thousands of Kievan soldiers in exchange for marriage of a Byzantine princess to the Prince of Kiev in order to defeat the Bulgarians. The Kievan Rus were not Norse, they were Slavic, potentially with Norse ancestry, but the term “Viking” itself is a particular Norse occupation. The “Viking Age” was pretty much over at this time. We do have record of plenty of Norse travelers coming to Constantinople prior to this, but the “Viking raid” in 860 was actually Rus that had come down into the Black Sea from what is now Ukraine.
To further screw things up, the term “Varangian” itself was used by both the Romans and the Rus to refer to Norse Vikings prior to the 10th Century. So, if this is the route you desire to go, determining if you’re just a Norse traveler from early period, or an actual member of the Emperor’s elite guard is important.
If you do decide to go Varangian GUARD, here is a list of “waves” of ethnicities that served at specific times. This is by no means set in stone, but it provides a guide for those that want to pinpoint a specific time period that suits their goals:
988 – 1020ish: Kievan Rus
1020-1070ish: Scandinavian (Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish) Bolli Bollason and Harald Hardrada served at this time.
1070-1204ish: Danish and English (Anglo-Saxon). The term “Danes” comes up in Byzantine literature often to describe the Varangians, and the English were escaping Norman rule in England at this time. This is documented in the saga of Edward the Confessor. Siward Barn served at this time. Normans were NOT permitted to be apart of the Varangian Guard, but some may have served as mercenaries in other capacities.
The Fourth Crusade has probably some of the best documented accounts of the Varangian Guard in action protecting Constantinople. After the retaking of Constantinople and re-establishing the empire, however, there didn’t appear to be as formal of a guard unit, and those that were a part of it, had fully assimilated into the Roman culture. It is unclear if the Varangian Guard really remained a thing until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
There are a lot of myths surrounded what they actually wore, especially in the SCA. The “red is for the Emperor’s service” and “green is for the Empress’s service” is totally a SCAdianism as far as I’ve found. It looks like the on-duty color for the guard was blue or red, while off-duty, you see them in nothing more than plain tunics and slim-fitting trousers or hose, which was typical for men’s casual wear throughout the empire. Earlier travelers would have continued to wear the clothing of their culture, versus picking up stuff along the way. Clothing was expensive and difficult to carry and launder, so the other SCAdianism of having a diverse wardrobe boasting the latest fashions of every exotic port of call you visited is also inaccurate. They would, however, assimilate over time if they decided to stay put in an area. This does not include trade goods, but items that were exchanged in business were not necessarily the same as the clothes you wore on your back.
As far as religion goes, during the period of the active guard, most serving were already Christian, or converted to Orthodoxy from a later, heavily modified and somewhat hodgepodged version of Arian Christianity which was more common in Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries very early before the Western Church started coming in with missions. Please, remember that Arianism IS NOT THE SAME THING as Aryanism. Mind your i’s and y’s! Either way, the idea of your persona dripping in lovely Asatru regalia would be incorrect as a guardsman, but as a very early Norse traveler to Constantinople, still possible.
This is both an abridged version of my Master’s Thesis and an expansion of sorts. It focuses solely on Kale’s garments and her inventory as such demonstrating her changing identity from noblewoman to nun. The Powerpoint has photos of my attempt at ecclesiastical dress and some dramatic poses for fun.
Achievement of Arms are a period way to show off one’s accomplishments in the SCA, as combined with one’s heraldic device. I had the great fortune to create a conjugal coat of arms for my Byzanbestie Anna and her husband Gieffrei, and ended up also blogging the process, too.
Let’s start off with the details and definition of what a heraldic achievement of arms actually is. An ‘achievement’ is a full formal display of a coat of arms. This form of display is normally used in very formal situations, and can be used for decorative elements, banners, and of course, on scrolls. An achievement is one’s heraldic device surrounded by all the extra elements accorded to an individual by their rank in the SCA according to their kingdom’s sumptuary laws. Most of the elements, however, are optional and do not have to be displayed. Further bits of interkingdom anthropology: Ansteorra registers…
It’s always a fun occasion when you find out a good friend is getting an award that means a lot. In this case, a good friend, Count Ioannes Aurelius Serpentius, was being awarded the Silver Rapier in the East Kingdom for prowess on the fencing list field.
Being that mean sneaky friend that I am, I offered my service as the scribe for this award, and put in the request with Tyger Clerk of the Signet. Once things got out of the holding pattern, the date for the award was moved up a bit, so I had to jump in on this a bit earlier than planned. Dropping my list of silk banner commissions and other projects to the wayside, I allowed the scroll assignment to take the wheel.
I ordered a finished panel from Pandora at a size a bit smaller than I usually go, 9.5×12.5″ versus 11×14″. It wouldn’t change the size of the cartoon I would have to make from the original, but make it a bit easier to ship from Trimaris to the East in a flat rate box. I would just have to get a bit creative with the scroll text.
I went ahead and did that first while I waited for my order to come in. Knowing it would have to be short and sweet, I went through a selection of Byzantine kontakia to find one that I could rework into an award for martial prowess. Of all things, I landed on the Kontakion of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, dating from as early as the 6th Century: (Theotokos translates as Mother of God. This is a hymn to the Virgin Mary.)
To thee, the Champion Leader, we thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Theotokos; but as thou art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, thou Bride Unwedded.
And then my reworking into a secular scroll:
Kontakion of the Awarding of the Silver Rapier to Count Ioannes Aurelius Serpentius:
To thee, Ioannes, we, Wilhelm and Vienna, King and Queen of the East dedicate a feast of victory and of thanksgiving. O Ioannes, but as that art one with might which is invincible, from all dangers that can be do thou deliver us, that we may bestow upon thee: A Companion of the Order of the Silver Rapier. On this day, November 17th, at our One Hundred Minutes War, Anno Societatis LIII.
There is a bit of fun irony here. The first being that the award was being given out just a few days prior to American Thanksgiving, and two, it was Ioannes’ birthday. So for his birthday, the royals dedicated a feast of victory and thanksgiving, which would be a very period thing to do to for a peer being bestowed an accolade of some type. In the Byzantine tradition, commemorations of an individual would be held on birthdays, and anniversaries of death. The document that was involved with my thesis/Compleat Anachronist, includes Kale Pakouriane authorizing a bequest of icons to the monks of Iviron to be used in the commemorative feasts for her husband, Symbatios, who was buried at the monastery. I have yet to pinpoint if icons were used for awards for living individuals, but I admit I haven’t chipped away at that research as much as I should be.
Finding the right icon to pattern turned out to be harder. The East Kingdom loves giving out “alterative” scrolls to the traditional ink and pergamenata creations by extremely talented scribes and artisans, so I knew I was throwing my hat into the pro ring. I decided it was going to be Michael the Archangel, since he is the patron of basically all things martial including fencing. Archangels are also not inherently symbolic of any one faith, as they exist in all three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), Zoroastrianism, and I believe also in the modern religion of Baha’i. They have considerably ancient roots and were prevalent during the classical through medieval periods in three continents, thus making them generally a safe choice to be enjoyed by all.
But I needed to find a badass Michael. Most period icons are of him standing in splendor or just a bust. These are lovely pieces, but I needed more pizazz. I found it in this considerably late Russian piece that is inching out of period, though some Cavalier fencers would say not, so this is my nod to those folks who bend the rules in one direction, just as I bend them in the other.
Of course I couldn’t find something simple. The palette was dark, probably from the aging of the pigments used, it was probably made on a much larger scale that I was about to try with, so some details were going to be skipped. I decided that I would leave the earth, the devil under Michael’s feet, and the figures to the right (our left) of Michael, who I would attempt to transform into Count Ioannes and Countess Honig. The orb would be used for the order’s heraldry.
Sure. No problem. I had weeks still.
First, I had to revisit the hell that is gilding in Florida. It was suggested that I use a mixture of gum arabic and honey to make an adhesive for the gold. And that is what I did. What I didn’t do, though, was give it enough time to dry. This resulted it some of it squeezing out from under the leaf, and taking some gold with it. Because of this, it took me some time to get smooth, even coverage, and I ended up using 2 full leaves of double ducate 23k gold on that small halo. I decided that panicking over the smeared gold was going to be useless, so I sanded it with my agate burnisher once the gold was set, which took 48 hours, despite us having a cold front at the time. I got an okay burnish, but since I had a nice thick layer of gold in addition to the bole beneath it, I pressed designs into the halo to make it look textured, and hide my flaws.
Then the protoplasm went down a day later. I wanted that gold as set as possible to avoid any more mistakes….except…that…wow, that sankir (skin color base) was wicked dark. I had overestimated the deep palette a wee bit, and understimated the richness of my blend with the egg medium. It was just Antica green earth and Roman black, and I have had it go on more translucent before, so the only person to blame was myself for not testing the color first. I also bit down and did the cloak in real vermilion (mercury sulfide, for those playing at home), because it is the accurate color, and nothing paints as nicely as it does. This put it immediately into the “DO NOT LICK” category of SCA art. Pretty much everything else is an ocher pigment, including the ultramarine blue and the crimson red used on his leggings. You can see how the vermilion looks a bit more orange against the crimson, which is what I saw looking at the original.
So on my first day of brush-on-board, I created a super dark, toxic ethereal being.
The next day, I basically had to sand off the sankir on Michael’s face, and hand-draw in the facial features so I could actually do any highlighting. The end result was a bit creepy, if not demonic. It gave me the jim jams.
So now, Michael was super dark, toxic, and demonic. Where was this going?!?!
But I recovered after a night of crabbing to Gieffrei, who reminded me that Ioannes would be happy with a stick figure as long as I drew it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy, but I was determined.
The first workover of highlights gave him a grumpy old “can’t even” look. Angels are androgynous and youthful. So that wouldn’t do, and would need another pass. I was pleased with the way the delicate florals came out on the cuirass and leggings. I put in an evil eye amulet for luck. You should be able to see it dead center.
I devoted an entire Sunday to getting the highlights down in two sessions. It’s not always a good idea to go over tempera layers a lot in the same day because it can pull up the paint and expose the panel. You have to let it set and harden overnight for best results, but I bent the rules. I put in what I think was two 4-hour sessions that day. Break time was spent grocery shopping and eating dinner, despite insisting that I needed no sustenance. My husband thought I was going insane, but I couldn’t pull myself way, and the time was well worth it.
And then the gold happened. This is watercolor, not shell gold, but the set I have is great. Archangels are divine, and as such, can be slathered (tastefully) in gold. And that’s what I did.
I gave myself a couple of days to allow for the paint to cure and harden, as I mulled over how I was going to do the border and words. I needed a contrast, and the only color I could think of would be Venetian red. It’s not my favorite pigment to work with since it tends to stay grainy and fight back against the medium by not absorbing it well for some reason, but it did come out the way I wanted it to after two coats. I also got the inscription down in my nice watercolor gold, and the border.
The text would need to be white to pop, but I also need to give that tempera a solid 24 hours of curing time before I attempted to write on it. Once that day passed, I went in there with a ruler and white colored pencil, and gently laid out the text. I decided that the words “Order of the Silver Rapier” would be done with the white gold in the palette to emulate silver, and to give a subtle sparkle. Gold was used as the spacers. I am not a calligrapher, and painting with a brush is hard, but I got it cleaner than I expected to.
And the finished wording:
Some cleanup work with the Venetian red, and VOILA! DING! Scroll is done!
Comparison with the original. Naturally, there was no way I could make an exact copy, but I think I did the piece justice in my own style:
And then the attempts to take as many artsy shots as possible on a solid background under my desk lamp to show lumanescence. Tempera is naturally shiny, so gold leaf and metallic paints just add more shiny, and this wasn’t as easy to photograph as say, a more flat painting would be, hence the varied angles to get different results.
This entire icon was painted almost entirely with a 3/0 brush. After completing it, I went out and purchased a 12/0 and 20/0 for even finer detail now that my skills are being honed.
I’ve been waiting for weeks to post about this. Secrets are so hard to keep when you’re excelling at something. I’m sad it had to depart to its new owner, but I know his face, and the face of those assembled at court will make it worth it.
I was super nervous shipping it north, even though we had time, the weather was starting to turn in New England, I was hoping it wouldn’t get stuck out in the snow or get soaked in a Nor’easter downpour. There was a massive sigh of relief once I heard it was received safely.
…Of course, I still need to oil varnish it. But that can’t be done until their Majesties provide their John Hancocks. 😉