Okay, what was THAT at Birka? My “Romanov Romanova” makes her one and only SCA appearance.

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.

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Image is watermarked. Please don’t steal art, it’s not nice.

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.

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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. 😉

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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.