Icon-a-long with Anna 2: Patterns and Bole

This post shows you the deepest darkest secret of iconography: the patterning process.

This is tongue in cheek for obvious reasons. Why?

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I will let you all stop screaming.

No, really. While many iconographers draw their own images, the vast majority of them are made from patterns that have existed since the Middle Ages or Early-Modern period. You can go on Amazon right now and find dozens of books of icon patterns and line art for this purpose. Copying is period. In fact, I was able to see an actual medieval icon pattern in person, once. I was unable to take a picture, but it was made of animal skin, and had the image punched into it so the iconographer could transfer it over onto their panel with a stylus. How else do you think so many icons look identical, save details and color?

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Two icons of “Sign, Mother of God” at the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA. The same pattern, but with different colors and embellishments. Note the position of the halo on each with the border and kovcheg.

I’m too poor to afford skins I can dedicate to patterns, but I can use the modern method of carbon paper, which is how most schools today teach it. (I do believe carbon paper, or a form of it, is period, but let’s not grasp at straws for stunt documentation.)

So, the way to do this is fairly straight forward. I’m using an 11×14 panel for an 8×10 printout, so I need to measure that out to create my border. Then I play the corner matching game and tape the image with the carbon paper down to the panel with painters tape. After that, using a dull pencil or a ballpoint pen, I go ahead and trace over the lines I need to create the line art. No need to get too detailed, because I learned early on you do too much work on the pattern, and paint over and lose all those detail lines. That’s all work you do on top of the base layers.

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Drawing the guidelines.
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Taping on the stencil.
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Finished cartoon.

After you get a successful trace, go back in with a graphite pencil and fix some details and missed lines.

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Notice how the original icon has the horse tail coming out of the border. I did the same.

After you have your line art, it’s time to prep for gilding.

Always get your gold down before painting. Gold will stick to all the things, so it’s important that you get it to stick to the only thing you want for the time being, and that’s a substance called bole.

I’ve mentioned this before in my previous icon posts, but bole is a mixture of red clay and hide glue. I’ve made it before, but I also like buying it ready made from Pandora because it make my house not smell gross and my stove and floors not get stained. Since I live in military housing, paying for others to do this for me is a great convenience.

I put two thick layers of bole down on the halo, and then a rough, thin layer on the edge of the board. This is highly symbolic in the icon process, but also important: the bole provides a cushion for the gold to have a design engraved into it if desired, and the layer on the edge helps protect the board while it’s being handled. In icon speak, it’s the base of earth from which God shone the divine light at creation (halo), and the edges are symbolic of the roughness and mortality of the artist. It’s kind of dark, and I love it. Because I paint these as an historical art in a secular manner, versus something that will be used for actual veneration, I don’t dwell too much on the sanctity of the process, but it makes a great mnemonic for the process, because the order of operations matters for a practical reason, as well as spiritual.

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Thick layer of wet bole on the icon of St. Martin.
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While that dried, I patterned Archangel Michael. Don’t worry about the guidelines, they can be erased and re-drawn.
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Putting bole down on Michael’s halo.
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Second thick layer of bole on St. Martin. It’s important to be mindful of air bubbles, which can ruin the smoothness of gold adhesion.
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Coating the edges.
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Ready to dry overnight and take on gold leaf.

After the bole cures, I’ll use an agate burnisher to smooth it out, but that will have to wait until tomorrow morning. If all goes well, I’ll be able to get the gold leaf down, and the first layer of egg tempera on all three icons.

 

To put things in perspective before painting, here’s the three brushes I use most of the time.

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“Protect ya neck!” Or, how Anna learned to hide Gieffrei’s delicate collarbones.

[Yes, the woman who named her site after a VNV Nation song just dropped a Wu Tang reference. Not even sorry.]

My husband has a huge head and a normal neck. Those of us who sew know what this means, it means a gaping maw of a neckline that shows off the Norman’s delicate ginger skin. And while it’s nothing a nice brooch and a gallon of sunblock can’t fix, it’s not -right-.

I’ll be posting soonish on dressing my husband in Byzantine, (yes, really, men’s garb, you heard it hear first), as well as including a new page on Norman Garb here on my site (*faints*) but I needed to reassess my approach toward fit.

During my short time in Caid, I had a discussion with a friend about necklines. American reenactors and re-creators make our necklines too big. After her visit to Scandinavia and meeting with Viking reenactors in the land of Where This Stuff Actually Happened, she gave me some tips on how to fix my stupidity.

I’m sure that this technique is known to a few people and I’m going to get a “WELL, DUH!” Gibbs Slap in the comments, but knowing also that there’s some derpy sewers out there who probably make the same mistakes I do, this post is important.

For the longest time, I’ve been following a formula given to me a while ago: You draw your neckline 3-4″ each way from the center point, 2″ down in the back, 4″ down in the front, and add a keyhole slit. This gives a lopsided oval effect with a shorter back than front, which is essential for comfort, but it’s just too wide around the neck. My husband’s head is 26″, his neck is 17″. He’s not a jacked guy, but he’s tall and broad, so making garb that doesn’t choke him has been a challenge.

Here is my new hack: Neckline gauges.

A true circle with the circumference of our necklines (13.5″ for me, 17″ for him), marked up showing increments of  1/2″ from the back toward the center mark. Ignore where it says “+ allowance”, I tried that and it made it too big. Just go with the regular neck measurement, the hem or facing will take care of that ease.

20180322_113304You place the gauge on the fabric, center mark matching to the dead center of where you want the neckline to be. Then, move it forward to where you want the depth of the back to be. I’ve done both 1″ and 1.5″ with good results. The dotted line helps you maintain the angle toward the front, and where you can mark your slit.

Here I am demonstrating it on a piece of scrap linen:

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White on white was a horrible idea, but let’s pretend that fold in the scrap is our shoulder seam or fold.
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Place the gauge on the fabric, matching center points.
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Move it forward to how deep you want the neck to be. In this case, I’m leaving 1″ in the back, so I’m putting my 1″ mark over the center mark.
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Trace, and cut.

Give that a shot. Practice on a scrap and put it over your head. You should have a neckline that comes right up if not a bit above the clavicle, and looks more accurate. Voila!!

Clearly, a closed slit is vital to the tight necks in Byzantine artwork, but you never see the slit! What do we do?

We cover it, or move it to the side.

The Manazan Caves tunic covers the keyhole slit with a placket. And I was a a fool to not have tried to make one of these sooner. You can find a great walkthrough from the folks Downunder at Birka Traders here: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/manazan_shirt/manazan_instructions.htm

I’ve constructed this for my husband with great results, both with, and without the band collar. This is also where I learned to NOT ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE ON THE NECKLINE.  I’ll be posting a better walkthrough once I’m done with his new collection of tunics so I can discuss my experience using the pattern above.

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The other option is to put the slit off-center. The most common is just down the left side of the neck, as seen in the Alb of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Palermo Tunicella. While both not “Byzantine” garments, the Eastern influence is evident.

The Coronation Alb of the Holy Roman Empire. The left slit is closed with fingerloop braid. Click on this to see the larger image, it’s worth it.
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The Palermo Tunicella, with the deep slit off left on the neckline, surrounded by a band of brocaded trim.

 

Another option is to use the shoulder seam as the slit. You see that in the Met Tunic I have posted on (link), and I emulated that for my 12th Century Ensemble (link).

So the next time you’re at a loss, looking at source artwork and wondering why your necks don’t look right, give this idea a shot and try a variation for a new fit. I know I’ve been totally converted.

So, we remembered we had an enameling kit…

No, really. Somehow, it ended up in a box of our holiday decorations because that’s how military packers and movers roll.

We aren’t pros, we have a basic know-how of the art thanks to a couple classes at Pennsic, and dropped a few hundred dollars on supplies because it sounded like a good idea at the time and then FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT.

So we decided to fire it up and see what kind of horrible we could make. We have a Sutton Hoo-era Coronation for our last hurrah here in Caid, so might as well go all out with some Anglian enameled jewelry. Sure, we could totally do this.

Oh yeah, no sweat. (This is a shoulder clasp from Sutton Hoo.)

At first, we figured we’d actually just splurge for the holidays and get ourselves some new shiny bits from Raymond’s Quiet Press, since he has a great selection of Saxon goodies, including Sutton Hoo replicas. But, my husband rarely gets to play with his metalworking stuff, and we found the enamel, so, why not try stuff for ourselves?

Deciding that we were going to turn our early Anglian garb into Founders Era Harry Potter subtle SCA cosplays of Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor (Yes, I know that they founded the school in the 10th Century and not the 6th, but they were Anglo-Saxon so bear with my madness, please, we go any later and my Norman husband will declare war on himself and things get messy) I started planning stuff out, since I’d be doing most of the work, anyway. I needed brooches, but since I’m Ravenclaw, I needed some house pride.  I’m really unsure if the plethora of bird brooches used between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish/Merovingian, and Gothic cultures were used on the peplos dresses, but I decided to take that risk for my impression.

Now, there’s some REALLY IMPRESSIVE enameled and inset stone eagle fibulae out there. Way beyond what I can do, so I needed to keep it simple. I found that Quiet Press had a style I could possibly emulate, only in red, but I wanted to find his source before being a jerk and ripping off a respectable merchant I buy from frequently. I have no intention of selling my enameling work, or even attempting to compete in the reenactment jewelry market, ever, so I used that thought as a soothing mechanism, and reminded myself I was still learning. I still sought to find a few other birds I could work from for my “eagles.” (Let’s face it, they all look like Gonzo.)

This guy is from a lot at Christie’s, and I decided I liked the wire work for the cloisonne and the inclusion of the pearl. As you can see, red garnets were the thing for this period, but it didn’t work with the color scheme I’m going for.

Gonzo.

 

Two Gonzos. Ah Ah!
An opposite-facing pair of Gonzos, which I wanted to find to support my own Gonzos.

Finding enough supporting evidence for my Gonzos and some line variants, I went ahead and made my shape, and the Norman cut them out of copper, which was chosen for the type of enamel we have. They do make enamels for bronze, brass, gold, silver, etc, but we have the copper kit.  I sat, watching some bad television, and filed the edges of my birds down while the kiln warmed up. It went pretty fast.

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Once things got hot, I went ahead and prepped the pieces with the clear base coat:

And fired them:

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Top bird is “cooled”, the one on the pizza stone is scorching hot. The base coat cools to a pleasant deep red.

Once they were fully cooled, I started the wire work. A note about the temp: this is not a “fresh out of the oven” hot, this is surface of the sun hot. You will get severely injured if you are not cautious. This is 20g copper wire. It took me quite a bit of time, and I used Thompson Blue Stic glue to keep it down. I am unsure if any adhesive was used in period, but I assure you, it’s a pain if your wires move. It’s also a lot easier to work with smaller cuts of wire, as I found out almost immediately.  Hopefully as I improve, I can handle manipulating larger pieces.

Once the glue was dried, completely (this is not a “fast” art), I put down the blue enamel, emulsified in water.

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Fire! You can see how red-hot the stones get.

And cooling down to the blue. I had to do a second coat with the enamel since I had some coverage issues.

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Husband made some fibulae pins from brass wire, and he showed me how to solder them on in about 5 minutes. Again, HOT. LET COOL. OMG. SO EASY TO REALLY BURN YOURSELF.

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And then the sanding. This is how you get your wires to show up again, after oxidizing in the kiln. During the process, one of the brooches popped some air bubbles in the enamel. This upset me, but I’ve seen period pieces with similar imperfections. Part of the learning curve, I suppose. I was still pretty pleased (see also, hooting, hollering, and down right ECSTATIC over how these were coming out.)

For the finishing touch…pearl eyes. We gently sawed a couple pearls in half to get the right size, and glued them in the eye sockets. The period technique would have them set in, but I’m not really there as a jeweler, and probably never will be, but Gieffrei insisted I do this almost entirely myself, so…E6000 it was.

But seriously though…they aren’t museum quality works of art, but I am insanely proud of this project. Behold, Rowena Ravenclaw’s Gonzo, I mean, Eagle, fibulae!

I have a long way to go before I’m ready to do intricate Byzantine style enamels, but it certainly beats my “warm-up” project from the day before.

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Uh. Well, that’s something. 

I learned a lot. I think I learned how to do some troubleshooting on the appearance of the enamel, but this is going to take some time to really get into. I have some great friends in the East Kingdom that do enameling, so next I see them, I’ll have to see what kind of tips they can give to work with the minimal tools we own. I don’t know if we’re going to invest in a larger kit just yet, because it’s not our primary art form, but rather another corner of the Middle Ages that have entered our home. Or rather the entirety of our dining room. In fact, we had a ton of friends over on Saturday to give it a try with us, and we had a ton of fun with great results just after 2 little projects.

Well, I suppose Godric Gryffindor needs some kind of lions next. Stay tuned for the next segment of our Anglian Experience.

Smashing the idea of the “Byzantine Period.”

So, you want to have a Byzantine persona? Welcome to the ranks of the mysterious  medieval orient.

This, and more, are going to become a page here on my site shortly *points up to links*, I just need to find time to sit down and do it. Until then, I feel the information I am presenting here is somewhat necessary for SCAdians to find direction in their path, either to a full-fledged persona, or a garb project for a themed event.

Often, when people ask me what a Byzantine should wear, I respond with, “What period?”

This gets me a look of total confusion, and a response of, “You know, Byzantine.” I take a deep breath, and prepare to either bore the poor individual to tears with a well-rehearsed speech on the massive construct that was over 1000 years of history, or I open the flood gates and get them more excited about digging into more. I always hope it’s the latter, but the foremost argument I have to make is this:

There is no “Byzantine period.”

Repeat after me:

There is no “Byzantine period.”

That is the equivalent of asking somebody for French garb, and nobody ever just says “French”, there’s usually a century attached to it. Why is this never the case when it comes to Byzantine? Byzantine, like French, is a culture, it’s a place, it’s not a standalone period.

The Byzantine Empire, which is an anachronistic term for the Eastern Roman Empire, was the longest running medieval culture in Christendom. I use that term specifically, since it was not really a European culture, as much as it was an “Eastern” culture, or, generally referred to as “oriental.” Of course, that word today has a completely different connotation that comes across as somewhat pejorative of the Far East, but in actuality, it literally just means “eastern”, and that is exactly how the Western Europeans viewed the Romans, whom they referred to as Greeks. Both are correct, but a Roman would never call themselves Greek. 😉 They barely viewed themselves on the same plane of existence as the rest of the continent, as it was, and as my brother just haughtily remarked on my Facebook page less than 3 minutes after announcing I was writing this post, viewing the Eastern Romans as “medieval” is even somewhat insulting, but for the sake of the instructional nature of what I’m trying to do, this is the approach I’m taking. (What can I say? Byzantines were snooty people.)

So, as a newcomer, consider the Byzantines the medieval Greeks, because that is exactly who they were.  Wash the romantic imagery of draped clothing, columns, and Socrates out of your head, because I know that’s exactly where you went. 😉 While ultra-early Byzantine would be basically Roman, let’s fast forward a bit to the 6th Century, during the reign of Justinian and Theodora. Here, we find what most scholars refer to as the shift into what is considered “Byzantine,” versus Late Antiquity. The culture did shift, and with that, so did clothing, language, religion, law, architecture, etc.

This is the period most SCAdians view as “Byzantine”, the 3 pages in their Western Civilization textbook devoted to the laws of Justinian and how his wife may have been a prostitute, and onto the feudal system you go in the next chapter. This is where I need my readers to start thinking outside of this box, because you’re looking at a total of 38 years encapsulated within the time Constantine renamed the Greek town of Byzantium to the new Roman capital of Constantinople in 330, to 1453 when Constantinople was taken by the Ottoman Turks. That’s a lot time to assume that everybody wore exactly what Justinian and Theodora wore in the San Vitale mosaics.

I break the Byzantine Empire down into 4 parts for ease of understanding culturally, but there were still shifts within. Heck, I just got an older book this week on the cultural changes between the 11th and 12th Century, which is where I “live”, so even I still need to do more nailing down.

The Byzantine Periods According to Anna:

Roman Period 330-500 CE
Early Byzantine Period (including Iconoclasm) 500-900 CE
Middle Period (Golden Age) 900-1204 CE
Late Period (Collapse) 1261-1453 CE 

Important dates you NEED TO KNOW:

First Iconoclastic Period: 726-787
Second Iconoclastic Period: 814-882
Establishment of the formal Varangian Guard: 980’s
Sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade: April 12th, 1204
Latin Empire/Empire of Nicaea: 1204-1261
Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461
Despotate of Epirus: 1204-1479
Fall of Constantinople: May 29th, 1453

I’m not going to go into a detailed history of the Fourth Crusade and the successor empires during this post, but as you can see, after the sack in 1204 by the crusaders, things kinda hit the fan and shattered. The Empire did not recover fully, and it remained unstable through to the absolute fall at the hands of the Ottomans in 1453. In my opinion, both scholarly and SCAdianly, anybody who wants a persona post-1204 has their work cut out for them. It can be done, it SHOULD be done, but I have yet to really see anybody nail it. My persona was probably dead by the mid 12th Century, so it’s all science fiction to me. 😛 Likewise, anybody looking for sources during the 8th and 9th centuries will also run into a lot of dead ends. Iconoclasm resulted into the loss of most artistic record from that period and earlier, which is why we have more illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and mosaics from the 11th and 12th centuries than we do the 6th and 7th. These are all unfortunate events that are part of the Empire’s history, and as researchers and re-creators, we need to come to terms with it. Some things will just not be done easily, but what you can find could be incredibly rewarding.

I’m going to wrap up this post with a short selection on clothing, since that’s what a lot of people want to know about. When I make my full page, I’ll go into more detail regarding other factors.

Sumptuary laws are, and always were, a thing. Many pieces of artwork we have are just of imperials, and the average aristocrat, and certainly not the commoners, would be wearing the same fashions as their rulers.  While, as far as I know, there are no harsh rules in the SCA regarding dress aside from peerage elements and coronets in some kingdoms, in period a fashion faux pas could be devastating depending on when and where you lived, so if you plan to take the Byzantine route seriously, such laws need to be taken into account when it comes to your wardrobe, both male and female. Even shoe color was regulated. That idea of Byzantines always wearing red shoes? Drop it. That was for Imperials ONLY according to De Cerimoniis, a court manual written in the 10th Century. Prior to that? It seemed to be more widespread. Little things like that can make the difference between, “That guy in the clavii striped tunic and red shoes is a Byzantine” to, “Wow! You’re wearing something I’m not familiar with as Byzantine, tell me more.” There is so much of this culture that the SCA has just not explored.

Look at the differences between the clothing in the images below just to get a sense of how much things really changed over time.

6th Century Imperial and Attendants, showing a variety of fashions from the reign of Justinian I.
14th Century Imperial fashions from the Lincoln Typikon, showing the encroaching Ottoman Turkish styles present in dress, 100 years before the Empire fell. Tell the 14th Century Mafia to step aside, this is how it’s done.

The purpose of this post is, of course, not to chastise, but rather remind folks that there’s so much more out there to explore. Break out of the SCAdian conscience of just “Being Byzantine”, and find your home somewhere within your own personal One True Century, within the One True Empire.

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Konstantia made this for me. This is why we can’t have nice things. (I was making sekanjabin en masse for an event. I SWEARRRRRR!)

My Compleat Anachronist is out!

Coming soon to a mailbox near you!
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If you don’t have a subscription, I will post an update as soon as the stock clerk has them available on the SCA website. I plan to also purchase additional copies aside from my author copies, and have them available at Birka.

I know I haven’t been posting as much as I used to. I do have content coming, but I was focusing on getting this off the ground, and, preparing for another fun-filled exciting cross-country move back to the East Kingdom from Caid. I was hoping they’d give us another winter in SoCal, but nooooooo. 😦

Anachronistic and Impulsive needs your help!

I was going to make a lovely post this morning on my experiences at Costume College, but WordPress is making it difficult.

I hate peddling, but the husband and I are catching up on some unexpected financials from this year (namely my emergency wisdom teeth extractions not fully covered by insurance, and some car issues back in the spring that nuked our savings, and we’re still trying to catch up.) My website is due for renewal, and I don’t have the money that WordPress is asking. Because of the traffic that Annasrome.com receives, plus the domain and ad-free modifications that I maintain for it, my renewal is not cheap.

I do my best to ensure that the site stays free for my users. I want my information to be free to researchers, and I want to be able to provide the best content possible for re-enactors, SCAdians, and others. To do this, I need help.
 
There is a donate button on the right side of my page. You don’t have to give a lot, but anything to help off-set the cost of maintaining the site would mean a great deal. I have a stock of new material I’m getting ready to post, but I need a place to post it.
 
Thanks in advance.
 
Anna/Angela

Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina’s Laws of the Conservation of Fabric

It’s occurred to me that I have never actually posted these. I swear there’s a Fourth Law I just came up with recently, but it escapes me.

Anna’s 1st Law: If at first it doesn’t fit, fold the fabric another way until it does.

Anna’s 2nd Law: Measure over 9000 times,  because you can only cut once. If you go to your husband, “Hey hold my beer”, and just go for the scissors, the tunic isn’t going to fit him. (This really happened.)

Anna’s 3rd Law: There’s another way to sew this, but you’re too pissed off to figure it out.

 

 

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.

Yes, it is OK to have fun with garb!

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.

 

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Ah, me precious….
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I shall hug it and squeeze it and call it George!

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?

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Anna, that doesn’t look so bad, what’s the big deal?
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Wait…THOSE ARE FLAMINGOS!

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.

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Something tells me my yard won’t look like this in Caid.

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.

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Good ol’ Theodora and her ladies.

Let’s take a closer look:

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I see some fowl dresses in there!

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?

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Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image links to museum listing.

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.

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Taken by me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2016.

I’ve also seen this one in person, and it pretty much made me squeal in the gallery. You can read more about it here: http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/448647

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.

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It looks pretty cute on its own, but sari cotton is super sheer.
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This is me being serious at Leodamas of Thebes here in Calafia. As you can see, I stitched some dolphin bezants on the straps for my own personal touch. I really liked this color combo.

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.