Achieve!, or the Diary of making an Achievement of Arms

I commissioned a conjugal achievement of arms from Konstantia, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Check out her blog on the process!!

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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…

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Icon of St. Michael the Archangel for Count Ioannes’ Silver Rapier

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.

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Easy peasy. Totes.

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.

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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?!?!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And the finished wording:

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Some cleanup work with the Venetian red, and VOILA! DING! Scroll is done!

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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:

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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.  😉

Better late than never – St. Nicholas of Myra Icon

Story time with Auntie Anna:

Back in the day, which is always a Wednesday, before we began our Knowne World Tour, it was arranged for Jeff to get his Silver Crescent at the same event as his Maunche because he was leaving Portsmouth for San Diego. Because of this, scroll requests got backed up. I wrote the words for his Crescent that was read in court, but he had no scroll. I promised him I would write an icon for him. THEN-

He left for Caid.
I got assigned Konstantia’s Herald Extraordinary scroll.
I wrote my thesis.
I moved to Caid.
He deployed.
I got the gilding down on this.
His backlog scroll came in from the East, and it’s lovely and I gave up.
He came back.
I did things other than paint.
We moved to Trimaris.
I was like, “Oh I still have this.”
And he was like, “So where is it?”

Here it is. 3 years later.

Panel is one of my handmade ones on a birch art panel with my own gesso. It is a hot mess and was not easy to paint on. I noticed the places where I didn’t sand as well, or touched a lot during demos and displays were prone to pitting and bad adhesion of the tempera. On the bright side, a lot of the flaws I had were the same flaws I saw on very old post-period/in-period panels. So there’s that, I guess. If anyone can take my experimental art and actually like it, it would be Gieffrei, anyway.

Saint: Nicholas of Myra, known to most of us as Santa Claus, but also the patron saint of sailors, and, of course, heretic puncher supreme. The reason I chose him should be evident. (Hint: Nothing to do with punching heretics.) The pattern is modern. Most period icons of St. Nicholas are rather boring and rarely show him with a boat/in a boat. Those are all post-period.

Green sky/blue water = Jeff’s arms, sans martlets, though in retrospect, I could have drawn one in. Green is also his favorite color.

Silver Crescent is on the boat, not only because service to his kingdom, but also to his country.

Inscription around the border: Γοδεφρείδος, Αργυρά Ημισέληνος της Ανατολής. “Gieffrei (Godefredus in Latin and Greek), Silver Crescent of the East.”

Main inscription just says Saint Nikolas.

After it cures for a couple of weeks, I will oil it, let it sit for a month, and then it can join the gallery on the staircase as an actual scroll.

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The great shell massacre of 2018. Shells care of the Atlantic Ocean.

Progress Shots:

Finished:

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So pretty. So…messy compared to my porcelain palette.

Icon-a-long with Anna 4: Egg Tempera and Painting

Egg Tempera is a great medium, but it takes some getting used to. As far as iconography has gone, I have never used a ready-made paint. I have always used dry pigments mixed with egg binder, even in my not-so-great early pieces. I’ve since learned the quirks of it, but I still have a bit to go.

The binder is easy to make: egg yolk and white wine. The wine is optional, but it helps emulsify the egg a bit, as well as act as a preservative. Still, you only get a week, tops, with this stuff in the fridge after a day on your table.

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First, gather your supplies! The wine name made you giggle.

My mixture this go around was 2 yolks and about “that much” of white wine. I’ve gotten to the point of knowing the color I want for the right mixture. You can separate the yolk from the white by transferring the goop back and forth between the broken eggshell halves. Then you pop the yolk with a folk, and let it slowly drain into the jar, catching the membrane in the process. If the membrane goes in, it’s not a huge deal, but you just need to make sure you don’t suck it up in the dropper later.

As you can see, it’s not a ton of liquid in a standard size mason jar, but a little goes a long way. You use drops, not tablespoons.

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Once I get the magic liquid made, I go ahead and set up my table. I already had most of this out when the gilding started, but here you can see my collection of pigments, and that I taped wax paper down to protect my work surface. All of my pigments are from Earth Pigments or Natural Pigments, are are 100% natural earth or mineral colors. Mostly oxides, but also some crystals. The bagged jars are my quarantined toxic vermilion (mercury sulfide) and minium (red lead) pigments.

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Egg tempera is backward from watercolor, you start dark and then add highlight layers. It seems weird, but it works. In iconography symbolism, you continue to “play God”, and build the paint up from the protoplasm, into a glowing, holy image.

Starting with the sankir, or base skin tone first. I mixed Antica Green Earth, and Roman Black. Think about the skin color of the Greeks and Middle Eastern people where this artform originated: olive based. Again, start dark, build up to light.

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Dry Antica Green Earth.

 

Egg tempera can be fickle depending on how fine some of the pigments are ground, the material they’re made from, and how much moisture they suck up. Antica green is fickle and kind of grainy, so I had to adjust as I went along with more pigment, egg, or water, depending on my needs.

I made a ton of sankir, so I painted all three icons with it. This isn’t always the best approach and it sort of busted my flow for the rest of the day, but they all have the same base mix, which is good. The rest of this icon-a-long will be for St. Martin.

I don’t have pictures of work on Martin, because, well, I was painting. It’s a time consuming process, and it takes hours. Total amount of work today alone was about 4 hours.

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You work the paint in tiny brush strokes from a small drop on the board, rather than long strokes.

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The perfect cloak red in icons comes from vermilion, real vermilion. I have a few different reds, but nothing paints like the real thing. So the real thing needs precautions. I keep it quarantined in its own baggy, with its own tools. Instead of using one of my palettes, or shells (I do have shells, the porcelain is just easier to clean) I use a plastic spoon that I can keep separate. While vermilion is considered inert once painted, the dry form is still toxic, it is still mercury, and needs to be controlled.

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Of course, once I got started with it, a warm fuzzy thing decided to distract me.

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That’s Harald Hardrada, Varangian kitty, King of Norway, Maine Coon superfoof.
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That red, though.

I had to use a tiny bit of the minium as well. It’s one of my favorite colors. As shocking orange as you can get, and a fully period color.

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After getting tired, taking a break halfway for dinner, and coming back to it, and still getting tired while finishing up the background, which is okay, because more coats will make it more opaque, but I’m bushed. I know it looks super weird, but over the next few days, the icon should “appear” as I add the highlights.

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How I became a liturgist: The Coronation Ordo of Brennan III and Caoilfhionn III

In November, I was asked (or rather, crashed a Facebook convo) regarding the new Eastern heirs coronation wishes. Byzantine!

Having worked with the couple before for their first coronation (wherein I was a spooky Vestal Virgin reading a scary prophecy) I knew that their love of display and theater is something that I had missed dearly living in Caid. At the time, the Norman still had orders back to the East Kingdom, so we were planning on being around for the spring coronation anyway.  I didn’t hesitate in agreeing to help build them their wish. Even after the orders were changed, I decided I wouldn’t drop the project, and that we would find a way to make the pilgrimage back home to the East Kingdom for one event.

Since I was most familiar with the source materials, I would develop the coronation ceremony, as well as ensure that the kingdom looked as fabulous as possible, despite my distance. So in January, after our move across the country, I sat in the library for a few hours and pecked away at the page here on my site to help folks get dressed. Once I was finally able to get internet installed, I located the primary source for the Coronation, and began my work in writing the modus.

I had several personal goals in mind:
– The ceremony had to be based on authentic period procedure.
– The ceremony had to be secularized and welcoming, but still “sacred”.
– The ceremony had to contain the traditions and relics of the East Kingdom.

The first two I could do, but the third I called in the reserves, and reached out to Master Steffan ap Kennydd, who I had worked with before, for his knowledge of ceremony and the needs of an East Kingdom-specific ordo.

The source depended on what period their royal highnesses desired. Both the 6th and 10th Centuries were brought up, and after some gentle nudging toward the later option, I was able to go forward with working with De Cerimoniis/The Book of Ceremonies by Constantine VII Pophryogennetos.  Drafted in the mid 10th Century as a court manual for his heir, the book contains a collection of various ceremonies pertaining to the Byzantine court: coronations of the emperor, the empress, how to address foreign dignitaries, how to invest an officer of the court, and what to wear to the emperor’s birthday dinner. I knew that the coronation ceremony was available online here, but after some eyelash-batting toward the husband following our tax return, I purchased the full paperback copy that was available through Brill Publishing, in an updated translation that would help me pick up anything that was missed, including the separate coronation ceremony of the empress.  (as of April 10th, 2018, I’m not seeing the print version available. Just the ebook here: http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004344921 )

It took me a good week to really get my first draft where I wanted it to be. And then, the Facebook chats began. I’m not really sure how other kingdoms work, but at least in the East, being that the coronations are often a production, so there’s a lot of moving parts after just the ceremony.  My work was far from over. I made sure Steffan saw it first, and then passed it on to their highnesses, and Brigantia Principal Herald, Malcolm. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to go into much detail on what was discussed, but mostly it was taking what I had written, plugging in the East Kingdom ceremonies, and figuring out logistics on music, and the performance of the demes (circus factions) leading the acclamations.

Mistress Margretha reached out to me to help with the music, and we decided that a processional hymn would be ideal. I pinged Martyn Halliwell and Mistress Aneleda for demoi assist, and Martyn just took it and ran with it. We were getting close, and my confidence was waning, if it wasn’t for Margretha and Martyn, I have no idea how I could have pulled it off. Margretha, a Greek native, knew what we needed for a hymn, so she secularized the Christmas Kontakion into a chant, and formed the “manly wall of sound” as she referred to it. Byzantine hymns very rarely have soprano or alto notes, so singing recruitment was a challenge for her. However, she nailed it, as you will see in the videos below.

Here is a link to her source material:

And her hymn:

Greek:
Το Βασίλειον σήμερον άνακτας νέους λαμβάνει
Βασιλέαν ανίκητον, Βασίλισσάν τε ωραία
Αρχοντες μετα Μαϊστόρων ούτους υμνούσιν
Ρόδα δε μεθ’ Ιπποτών δοξολογούσιν
Δι’ημάς γαρ στεφθώσιν
Κολφίννη τε και Μπρένναν εξ Ανατολής

Anglicized:
To Vasilion simeron anaktas neous lamvani
Vasilean anikiton, Vasilissan te orean
Archontes meta Maistoron outous imnousin
Rodha dhe meth’ Ipoton doxologousin
Di’imas gar stefthosin
Kolfinni te ke Brennan ex Anatolis

Translation:
The Kingdom today receives new Sovereigns
Invincible King, Fair Queen
Lords and Masters sing praise upon them
Roses and Knights rejoice
For they are crowned for us
Caoilfhionn and Brennan of the East

Martyn knows how to wrangle a crowd. So rather than go with my original plan of having a chorus of Greens and Blues answering Brigantia, he got the factions to lead the populace, thanks to a handy print-out, and planting folks in the audience. It went off without a hitch the day of and sounded great.

The final piece, once Steffan had helped determine where we would place the traditional unction of water from the Bay of the Mists (San Francisco Bay), and the swearing of the coronation oaths, was actually writing the oaths. There’s not much in De Cerimoniis regarding this, believe it or not. In period, the patriarch performed the blessing and coronation, which is something that we do not do in the SCA. As far as East Kingdom tradition goes, the transfer of power is peaceful, and the previous royals crown the heirs, who then swear their oath on a relic vial of dirt, from the backyard of Diana Lystmaker where the society was founded. Brigantia performs the unction. The order of operations is fluid, but they have to be in there. Since investiture is also a part of the Byzantine coronation, where the rulers are clothed in the khlamys, that needed to go first. So cloaks, crowns, oaths, and unction are the order we decided on.

This is when Princess Caoilfhionn stepped in. I was at a loss at where to go for oaths. Baroness Konstantia had used a rather loquacious one when she stepped up as Gold Falcon Principal Herald in Calontir, but it seemed too informal for a coronation, as it was strictly an officer’s oath.  Her now-Majesty found the missing puzzle pieces we needed in the Coronation of Anastasius I from the 5th Century. While it was earlier than De Cerimoniis, it provided the puzzle piece needed to complete the Eastern-specific ordo we wanted. Caoilfhionn wrote her own versions of the oaths, which are available here in their primary source form. Since we had acclamations already planned from De Cerimoniis, the ones here were removed. The secularized edit is in the ordo document linked at the conclusion of this entry.

Link: https://archive.org/stream/coronationrites00wooluoft/coronationrites00wooluoft_djvu.txt 

Transcription of primary source:

EMPEROR. It is manifest that human power de
pends on the will of the supreme Glory.

PEOPLE. Abundance to the world ! As thou hast
lived, so rule. Incorrupt rulers for the world ! and
so on.

EMP. Since the most serene Augusta Ariadne
with the assent of the illustrious nobles and by the
election of the glorious Senate and mighty armies,
and the consent of the sacred people, have advanced
me, though unwilling and hesitating, that I should
assume the care of the Empire of the Romans, agree
ably to the clemency of the Divine Trinity

PEO. Kyrie eleeson. Son of God, have mercy upon him.
Anastasie Auguste, tti vincas ! God will keep
the pious Emperor. God gave thee, God will keep
thee ! and so on.

EMP. / am not ignorant hoiv great a weight is
laid upon me for the common safety of all.

PEG. Worthy of the Empire ! Worthy of the
Trinity! Worthy of the City. Out with the in
formers. (This last is doubtless an unauthorised
interpolation.)

EMP. / pray Almighty God that as ye hvped me
to be, in this common choice of yours, so ye may find
me to be in the conduct of affairs.

PEO. He in whom thou believest will save th#e.
As thou hast lived, so reign. Piously hast thou lived,
piously reign. Ariadne, thou conquerest ! Many be
the years of the Augusta ! Restore the army, restore
the forces. Have mercy on thy servants. As Marcian
reigned, so do &>w…(and much more to the same
effect).

EMP. Because of the happy festival of our Empire,
I will bestow 5 solidi and a pound of silver on each
man.

PEO. God will keep the. Christian Emperor.
These are the prayers of all. These are the prayers
of the whole world. Keep, Lord, the pious Emperor.
Holy Lord, raise up thy world. The fortune of the
Romans conquers. Anastasius Augustus, thou con
querest ! Ariadne Augusta, thou conquerest! God
hath given you, God will kesp you.

EMP. God be with you.”

 

Being at this point, about 2 weeks out from the event, things were as good as they were going to get. The husband and I hit the road 5 days before Coronation from Florida, making some mundane stops along the way. We arrived at our crash space for the evening, which doubled as the prep space for the dayboard, so we got to get some catching up in over balls of matzo dough, while the Norman did what he does: design and strike coins for the reign.

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Gieffrei is nuts, it’s fine. I need to make him blog more.

But you didn’t come here for coins, you came here for the ceremony. So, here it is, is all of it’s splendiferous PDF form.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Eg1wzPEo2_kkXSO0Kh65HFVyB5Djkzf7/view?usp=sharing

And Videos! These are taken with my phone, so professional they are not. Bear with some of the moving and the shaking.

The only hiccup we had is that the bridal tunnel utilized to get the procession where it needed to be created a bottleneck, and we had a backup. Just more time to listen to Margretha’s beautiful hymn, and set the Byzantine mood.

Enjoy!

Hymn:

Procession and Ceremony:

Acclamations:

 

PS: What about the garb? I had maybe 2% to do with that. Baroness Fortune St. Keyne has my trust implicitly, and I just helped her with some basic pointers on the shape of the divetesion, and color of the silk. (The orange was not me!)

Queen of the Alligators: The SCA, the Military, and Mental Breakdowns.

A portrait of my majesty.

We lost Carrie Fisher a year ago today.

While Space Mom has little to do with the current Middle Ages, I’m using her activism, as well as the tradition of “feats of strength” on Festivus, on this last day of Saturnalia, to make a difficult post that I’ve been putting off as part of my psychotherapy.

Write about it. They always say to write about it. Write things down.

So, this post is going to tell you more about me than you ever really wanted. This is a vent, a way to open dialogue. This is not a cry for help, or a way to get attention. This is a necessary discussion that needs to happen, because I know I’m not alone.

My real name is Angela, and like so many others, I have clinical depression, with a chaser of generalized anxiety disorder. My brain decided chemicals are for losers around the same time my immune system decided my thyroid was a tasty snack, and and some sort of switch flipped from normal to batshit crazy. Or rather, somebody noticed that I was batshit, and that we needed to deal with it.

In January of 2014, I found myself a crying, broken mess in my now-husband’s barracks room. I was physically and mentally exhausted. An application to graduate school had been denied 2 weeks from the start of the semester, and my plans were suddenly on their head. The Norman’s solution?

“We should get married.”

My response was an expletive, but the rest was basically history.  Two months later, I married the United States Navy. It was 13 degrees outside. I was accepted into graduate school the same month, and things appeared to be smoothing back over. Access to consistent healthcare now meant that my weird mood issues and lethargy could be addressed. I figured it was diabetes. Fortunately, I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune illness that effected my thyroid and would keep me on pills for the rest of my life. As far as AI diseases go, I got off lucky,  guess, if there is such a thing. Hashimoto’s is very manageable. It does still knock me on my butt with flares, which usually happens after being extremely active or overstimulated for a few days, but I deal with those as they come. We figured that was the reason for my crankiness.

Healthcare is really only a fringe benefit to military life. I would soon find out it was a cornerstone of precious sanity in a world of pure, unadulterated chaos. In the last 3.75 years since we’ve been married, there was a move to NH, he made Chief, he was sent to Guam for three months, and the boat he was on got moved to San Diego. I moved to San Diego. He was deployed, and got extended. He came back, we tried to be normal for 2 minutes, and the hits just kept coming. I’ve was told it wouldn’t be this nuts. I’ve seen that it’s not always this nuts. In fact, it seems like we’re the only people that consistently get Eris at the detailer desk. Heck, my husband’s last sea duty started in Kuwait. Kuwait. He’s a ginger submariner, for freaking sake.

Sure, you’re sitting there reading this, going, “Well, you knew what you signed up for. Deal with it. This still has nothing to do with the SCA, why are you complaining about  this? You didn’t have to marry him.” And all of that is correct. I’m setting the scene. Also: rude.

You see, the husband made Chief Petty Officer while we were AT Pennsic. This is when we knew that the balance between hobby and real life was a delicate one. Granted, Chief Season in itself is a special hell, and I got my first dose of going to events without him during the time we were a couple. It seems so normal now, that when he DOES go, it’s like a miracle. When he was in Guam, I kept myself busy with school and events. It was doable. The San Diego move was a little harder, but I still had my MA to complete, and events to go to. He couldn’t make my graduation, but at least got leave for my defense. He didn’t help me move to San Diego, and I didn’t see him until after being in the city for 3 weeks, alone. The SCA was my lifeline during this time. I went to an event, I met the people in Calafia. I was able to get advice on where to shop, where to eat, what to do. It proved to be more of a resource than you ever expect a silly club to me. The SCA saved my sanity during his extended deployment, and his first event home was Potrero War.

Between August 2015 and August 2017, I had spent probably about 4 months with him. We were eager for the break from this sea duty, returning to New England and the East Kingdom where our friends and family are. I was applying for jobs at some of the larger museums in the region and was eager to start my career back East. He got his orders to Connecticut in August, and by mid November, we were inspected, had a house, and were ready to go. Less than 2 weeks from our move date, those orders were canceled, and he was suddenly being sent to a sparsely populated corner of Georgia, and my brain split in half. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

I’ve known for some time that something wasn’t right upstairs. I was prone to ridiculous mood swings and moodiness as a teenager that was written off as being dramatic and, well, a teenager. High stress situations tended to make me flustered and upset beyond what seemed normal, and it didn’t take much for me to find a reason to lay on the couch and cry for weeks, overcome by muscle soreness, and by grief for seemingly nothing. While planning for the move to San Diego in the middle of writing my thesis, I started seeing a social worker at my university to help with stress management. She was concerned about my mood, and by things I was saying, and recommended I sit in front of the sun lamp (It was winter at the time), and said that even though she wasn’t a doctor, she was certain I was exhibiting signs of mental illness, probably anxiety and some kind of depression, maybe seasonal. She gave me therapy homework to help with my stress that ignored completely, and I just trucked through that last spring, living off of protein shakes, sadness, and Taco Bell.  I should have taken her recommendation to seek out an actual psychologist, but I was busy, and felt embarrassed, because I was probably just stressed.

I should have paid more attention. My thought process prior to most events, especially big ones, tends to work like this:

-If I wear this, then XYZ.
-If I wear this, then ABC.
-I don’t even know why we do this.
-What will they thing if I display this?
-What will people say if I show up at this class?
-What will people say about MY class?
-I wonder if I’m going to be heckled again, what do I do?
-Do I know my stuff well enough?
-Ugh, I’m not going.

Like textbook impostor syndrome, right? Of course it is. Extroverted, talkative, strong women like me don’t have anxiety. That makes no sense.

I flew out to Pennsic from California that summer, and realized that I was wrong. I caught myself having anxiety attacks over and over for seemingly dumb reasons. My thought processes were a mess, and where I was once excited about the event, and seeing my friends, instead I found myself questioning everything I did.

– Do they even still want me around?
– Will I make people mad for sitting with Caid for A&S?
– Why is my household treating me like this? 
–  I am an extrovert, why do I want to have nothing to do with this vigil in my camp? What is going on?

It was also dangerously hot, and my constant worrying about opinions of me make it easy for me to forget to take care of myself. This came to a head, and I ended up leaving war on an early flight back. It took weeks for me to want to go to an event again. I felt cowardly, tired, and depressed over Pennsic. Gieffrei finally dragged me out, and I ended up winning Queen’s Champion of A&S when I did. What the hell was going on with me? This wasn’t right.

I had another meltdown during his deployment when I fell, broke my computer, and hurt my knee. Chalking it up to stress again, I just let the waterworks fly, and let myself feel like ass for weeks until it blew over.

This last one? It was the last straw. Not just for me, but for my husband as well.

Back to my brain ripping in half, I felt as if I had ran into a hard glass wall. The life we had set up for ourselves was suddenly out of reach, but we could still see it. My job? Gone. Our house in CT? Gone. The SCA? Gone. Each thread of happiness I had got cut, and I found myself laying on the floor in the living room, wondering if it was worth it to end it all. Not a normal, rational reaction to dealing with a sudden change in your life. While the husband was trying to snap me out of it, and discussed making a plan to deal with the new move, my mind wouldn’t budge. It was still moving to CT. It was still going back to see our friends and family, into the house we had just secured. We were going to 12th Night and Ice Weasel and East Kingdom 50th Year, and I was doing research for the Byzantine Coronation in April. No, I was not moving to Georgia. There wasn’t even a stronghold at this base, no Meridies presence at all. The nearest group was an hour away, in Jacksonville, FL, in Trimaris, but I didn’t want to deal with another kingdom. I started in Trimaris ages ago, but I had a negative experience at fight practice, when I was driven off the field by aggressive men who didn’t want women in armor. I wanted the East back, and if I couldn’t have the East, I was staying in Caid. This wasn’t fair. It was ridiculous, and he needed to try to fight it. We were moving in 12 days. A neighbor ran over when she found out I wasn’t doing well, and, doing her best to make me laugh, insisted that I accept this fate by naming myself Queen of the Alligators. I would sit on my front porch with a tiara and a pretty dress, and hold a court of crocodilians while crushing a flat of cheap beer. Admit it, the concept has promise.

And fight we did.  After he had his own explosion quelled, he dragged me to see a counselor on base, but I felt talked down to, like I was a kid throwing a tantrum. I was told that my feelings were valid, but I needed to nut up and shut up, we needed to make our plan for the new move. I left feeling less than sensational, but a small piece of my brain feigned acceptance, and suggested we put up the Saturnalia tree since we clearly weren’t leaving, even if I was still grasping at a glimmer of hope this was all just a misunderstanding that would be fixed.

I should have known better, we were warned by another SCAdian serviceperson who had done their share of voluntold traveling the world. Don’t be so optimistic that you’re going where you want to go.  No orders are final until his ass is in the chair. Get ready to spend the rest of his career being transient SCA nobodies. 

A week later, despite the local command doing what they could to overcome Navy bureaucracy, he got the official paper orders. Kings Bay it was. I was shattered. I was unable to function enough to even think straight about what to do next. Gieffrei had to leave work early (which he was fine with, considering his own mood) and had to take me to the ER since I decided I wanted to disappear rather than deal with anything else. This accomplished nothing but putting me in 2 hospital johnnies and a pair of socks, in a cold room for hours, being questioned by three different MDs. This wasn’t me, this wasn’t normal, and yet, it was such an oddly familiar feeling. It was brought to my realization that I’m so used to being sad, angry, and stressed, that finding the bright side to anything was not possible. I was given a list of numbers to call, it was time to make an appointment. These were the hardest phone calls and emails I’ve ever made in my life, ones that should have been done years ago.

I bawled during my first therapy session, blubbering about everything from having to call to cancel the lease on our house in Connecticut to being unable to even look at homes in Georgia. To having to explain to a stranger that I was a weird nerd who did medieval things and that all of my people are in one place, and there was nobody near this new place.  I expected to get some weird reactions, but I did not. I expected to be told to put it aside to focus on my “real life”, I did not. My therapist was in my brain better than I was, but of course, that was their job. My hobbies mattered. The SCA mattered, the 501st mattered, my drawing and painting and sewing and comic books, this all mattered. I wasn’t treated like a child. I was allowed to be upset, frustrated, and overwhelmed. I was allowed to believe that life wasn’t fair. Even as I type this, I’m welling up, because I certainly wasn’t fixed immediately.

The diagnosis, after a long chat besides my current situation, was clinical depression, and anxiety. I was broken. Great. I had reasons for my behavior, but now I had that fear of whispers behind my back. What would people think of me, now?

“Oh, there goes crazy Anna, it’s fine. She just cries all the time. I don’t even know why she comes to events anymore.”

You see that? That’s what anxiety does to you. I can’t get rid of that thought now.

Not that it matters, you have no friends in that part of Meridies or that part of Trimaris. You may as well quit.

I wish I wasn’t having these thoughts, but they’re real.

Right now, the prescription is just therapy. Having to move makes it hard on me to explore psychiatric evaluation and medication, since such things need to be monitored. I don’t even want to talk about this. I want to pretend it isn’t real, and that I’m still just a ball of stress, and this too, will pass, but, it’s not passing. There’s still that plexiglass wall, with my normal life on the side, and I’m pounding at it, crying my eyes out and wondering what the hell we did to deserve this.

The latest development is that we decided to live in Florida versus Georgia. I grew up there, albeit far from Jacksonville in the Tampa Bay area, but at the very least, my immediate family is within a 4 hour drive. We’ll be in an active barony, which was part of the sell, but honestly, I’m not sure how active -we’ll- be.  Still, it’s better than living just across the border, and having not even a local A&S night or fight practice to socialize at. My husband will have an hour commute, and I feel like it’s my fault, because he decided it was best for me to be in civilization. As civilized as Jacksonville can be, anyway. (Hey, I’m from Tampa, I have to jab.)

There’s still too much we have to do. We were supposed to be here in Caid until February, but now we’re moving mid-January. I need to get a job, relatively fast, and we’re down a car. We still have to go to New Hampshire to get our stuff in storage, including our large pavilion, and can’t do that until the spring. Needless to say, we won’t be at Gulf Wars, so please do not push it as a platitude. Our spring trip to New England will include East Kingdom Coronation, so I can fulfill their highness’ wishes for a Byzantine theme. We will be at Pennsic, or at least, Gieffrei says we will. We are not making plans for Trimarian or Meridian events at this time until we get over this shock, and I can become employed, because we’re gonna be flat broke if I don’t.

Things will work themselves out because they have to. Not because I want them to, or because I’m looking for a bright spot. I’ll get a job, I’ll live in misery in the sweaty corner of the country, back in the Motherstate, and then who the hell knows what we have next. Acceptance is going slowly, and there is still the option of me taking off for a job with some merit elsewhere. There’s too many variables, and it’s eating my brain like candy. This was the worst time for me to come to terms with my mental illness. The Holidays don’t help.

I found solace in the idea of being Queen of the Alligators. Of course, being queen without being a consort in crown doesn’t work in the SCA, so I can’t really call myself that in a SCAdian context without getting chastised, even in jest. But, as a baroness, I can wear a coronet, so I went on Etsy, and found brass alligators, six of them, and this will be happening. I also found woven trim, but it hasn’t come in yet.

Alligators are New World, but crocodiles are Old World, and a heraldic charge, so I’m also looking into registering one as a badge. Though, I’m sure if I dug into enough information about the settling of St. Augustine, I could probably find a reference to an alligator within SCA period. It does matter, after all, they look different, and alligators tend to be cuter since they have a broader snout, but I digress. Once a Florida girl, always a Florida girl, even when we try to run.

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A crocodile tergiant, or.  Well, it really looks more like a caiman with that snoot, but whatever.

I wish I could give a more positive answer in conclusion, other than sticking it to the Navy while creating novelty in the SCA with large reptiles, but right now, it’s the single thread of happiness I have, even in its absurdity. I think Space Mom would approve. I don’t know what the eventual step toward psychoactive medication will do, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting to feel like a nice, normally functioning, adult human being.

Kittens!

And this disjointed nightmare is how I tell the internet that I’m moving back to Trimaris after 15 years.

 
Baroness Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina, Lady of the Alligators
Conch Republic of the Early Disaster

 

 

 

Once Upon a Dream: A Foray into the 15th Century

We have an event here in Calafia called Winter Arts. Being that it’s one of the few events in the barony where you’re indoors, typically, you want some fancy duds.  Back in September, a group of us decided that we would tackle something different, and something different being Burgundian.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure 99.9% of the women and those identifying as such, who grew up with Sleeping Beauty, wanted a dress with a hennin and to be a princess and spin in circles and look pretty all the time when they were little.

…The 1% was me, who wanted to be Maleficent, but anyway, I digress. Burgundian is that clothing style that invokes the memory of a romantic High Middle Ages of pointy hatted damsels and dramatic gowns of fur and fancy fabrics. So, why the hell NOT do it?

Being that I was moving soon (note that past tense for the moment), I set limits for myself on what I could and could not use when drafting this project.

1: All fabric needed to come from my stash, or have minimal cost.
2: If I finished my gown, Gieffrei would get his, but not vice versa.
3: I would make the ridiculous hat and be fabulous.
4: I would absolutely not use that fuchsia linen and be Maleficent.

Being that my fabric is mostly Byzantine, as a result, so was my Burgundian. I had a ton of black ecclesiastical stuff I picked up at a yard sale last year, and I decided that would be my gown, because nothing says high gothic garb like being…gothic. The kirtle I would totally do the right way with front lacing and make it fitted and supportive. By myself. Okay, sure, Anna. The fur I got from a friend who has bags and bags of the stuff because she does viking living history and random people just give it to her. So, I got the real mink. I don’t mind using real fur, especially if the animals had been dead long before I was born. Or in this case, my grandmother was born. We’re talking some seriously old vintage sleeves.

For the patterns, I used a combination of Reconstructing History, and the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant. I probably didn’t NEED the paper patterns, but sometimes I need a bit more of a visual in order to grasp a new concept, after that, I usually “get” it. Kass’ patterns are usually pretty simple blocks that give me a lot of leeway for customization and fitting, anyway.

These were my stages of madness:

First garment: The front laced kirtle.
Second garment: The v-necked gown.
Third garment: Gieffrei’s houppelande.
Fourth garment: Gieffrei’s chaperon.
Fifth garment: My double hennin.
INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown.
Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle.
Finishing touches.


First garment: The front laced kirtle.

I’ve wanted to be fitted for a cotehardie for a while, now. Despite all the crap I give my friends in the 14th Century Mafia (who all rightly deserve it,) I’m intrigued at the idea of having a supportive garment that is comfortable for all-day wear at an event. The short-sleeved type I attempted is more fashionable in the 15th Century, and often seen with contrasting, decorative sleeves. Using the basic bodice block that came in the RH pattern, I extended the skirt from it, versus attaching one at the waist seam (this is also seen in some period artwork I came across.) The real bitch was fitting it. You cannot do this by yourself. It was Thanksgiving night in my house, I was upstairs getting my chest jacked up by a friend who had come over for dinner. It’s what SCAdians do on holidays.

I need tweaks, but I did end up with a supportive gown. The material is a light wool coating, and it will work great as an undergarment, or a standalone dress. I figure once I get a proper fitting and pattern made for -me-, I’ll be way more successful, but as my first attempt at any form of the Gothic Fitted Dress, I can’t complain. I am soooooo not used to the wider neckline, though. I feel like it’s staying up by some sort of magic, and I pretty much feel naked, even though that is the style. (I also look pregnant, which is also, an unfortunate piece of historical accuracy that modern sensibilities need to get over.)

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“Okay Norton, try it on.”
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They’re staying up!
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Belt helps break up my figure better.

…Then I checked the weather. San Diego wasn’t going to get cooler than the 70s-80s for the event. Wool under brocade, even indoors, could be a death sentence. Did I have time to make another fitted one from linen? No. I would have to improvise, so I set this aside for another day. It’s currently hanging up on my closet door, needing more eyelets and a hem, and body linen, because wool against the skin is awful. I will be returning to this project.


Second garment: The v-necked gown.

This was way easier than I thought it would be. Rectangular construction on the body, fitting your figure on the side seams above the gore, and inset sleeves. I finished the bulk of the gown itself in a matter of 2 hours on my machine. The hard part would be the fur, but that was being saved for later. I skipped the train, because I don’t like people stepping on my garb. Fortunately, there was plenty of fullness without it. The v-neck is simply shaped out of the front seam.

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Admit it, the teal elastic belt really sets off that Byzantine ecclesiastical fabric.
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No train needed. There are side gores, as well as shaped panels to add fullness.
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Placing the mink to determine how I was going to cut it.

 


Third and Fourth Garments: Gieffrei’s houppelande and chaperon.

Jeff was super reluctant to do this, SUPER reluctant. Not all men are into the idea of fancy later period, so it took some coercing. I would make the garments in the larger, less fitted style versus the short, pleated doublets of younger men seen in period artwork. This also eliminated my need to fit my husband for joined hose, and he could get away with wearing a set of braies and chausses. I had a nice herringbone linen tunic he could wear as his undershirt, and we would just fluff him up with accessories to give the period look.

I was short on fabric for the houppelande, but I did what I could. He basically had no gores to add any sort of fullness, so I had to work with the width of the brocade. This resulted it things getting off center and making me want to cry.

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Don’t look at the seam, DON’T LOOK AT THE SEAM. Ahhhh!

In the end, it came out passable. AND FAKE FUR IS AWFUL TO WORK WITH.

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Costarring my dirty laundry and an unmade bed.

I also knocked out his chaperon/dagged hood in about a half hour. I did this the traditional way, just cutting the hood out of the wool and sewing 2 seams. Then you roll the face opening of the hood up and plop it on top of your head so you look like a weirdo. Bam! Instant hoodlum. (This is where the term comes from!)

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“You like dags? You know, dags!”
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He loved it!

Fifth garment: My double hennin.

We had a hat day that included brunch and mimosas. If you don’t craft with mimosas and brunch, I highly recommend you try it, it seriously helps.

I’m not a hat maker, I’m pretty awful at it, so I was expecting to make a regular truncated hennin and lappet, and call it a day.

But no, Anna can’t do anything basic.

Adelwyn made the pattern for the double hennin from The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, and my brain went full on Sleeping Beauty evil fairy queen at the sight of it, and the rest was history. We shared the pattern, and I got to fight with buckram.

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“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dreaaaaaam…”

And that’s when Maleficent was born. I decided that I would cover the hennin in the same black fabric as my gown, and I would make the replacement kirtle out of this fuchsia linen I had just laying around in my stash. It wouldn’t be exact, as Maleficent is clearly wearing a houppelande and not a fitted gown, but I would make it work.


INTERMISSION: The epic meltdown.

There is one thing worse than real life punching your SCA, and that’s real life punching your EVERYTHING. Without warning or explanation, Gieffrei’s orders back to the East Kingdom were cancelled, nine days out from turnover and twelve days from our scheduled move. He was being rerouted to an unincorporated corner of Meridies on the Trimaris border in February.

This sucked the life out of me. Right. Out. I already suffer from depression and anxiety, and I will be making a post about this next, but this was like taking a baseball bat to the chest. What about our house? What about my job? What about my life? Everything we had planned to do when we got back to New England was ripped out from underneath us like a carpet in a cartoon, and it hurt just as much.

In one final blow, his current position ordered him to work during the event, after I had done all of this sewing for the both of us.

Winter Arts stopped mattering. I was ready to toss the project aside, curl into a ball and cry while I mourned the next 3 years of my life. Jeff was having none of this. I got dragged upstairs back to my studio, and told to finish it for him. He stood and watched as I cut the covers for my hennin, and he gently cut the seams on the vintage mink for me while I sat at the sewing machine spewing vicious epithets at the US Navy (which didn’t hear me). The project was now a rage sew, versus a fun new thing.

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The beautiful work Jeff did cutting the seams on the vintage mink.

Sixth garment: Replacement Caid-friendly kirtle.

Nothing special about this, just making the wider neckline out of a typical tunic dress. Fighting my depression, I threw this together in 2 hours of absolute rage including industrial music at full blast and yerba mate tea. I wasn’t sleeping anyway, so it no longer mattered. I think it was like 10pm when I took this picture.

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CAFFEINE PLUS FUCHSIA LINEN EQUALS FLYING

Finishing Touches

I was down to the wire. The hennin needed to be covered, attached, and veiled. After I covered the buckram, I made the fillet out of black velvet, and put it on over my gold snood. This provided a base for the pins, and created friction to keep the hat on. Normal hennins that encompass the entire head will sit on your head without pins as long as this band or lappet is in place. It’s a neat trick. I dug out one of my favorite dirty pilgrim badges as a piece of flare.

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Just keep sewing. Sewing means you don’t have time to cry.

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Nailed it.

 
The night before, I was working on the belt and Adelwyn came over, and I helped her figure out the last pieces of her puzzle. Isolde also showed up, and offered to attend the event as Gieffrei so the garb would get worn.

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TONIGHT: Playing the role of THL Gieffrei de Toesni, is Isolde de Featherstan.

I still had to attach the fur and the sleeves to my gown. There are no pictures of this. It’s me, on the couch, sneezing a lot from handling old fur, and tacking it down onto my dress in a manner that I could remove it.

Around 9pm, I finished.

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It just screams evil queen of luxury.

Pictures!

I have to admit, I totally felt like a damn princess. Not in the SCA sense, but in the little girl fairy tale sense. Pointy hats, full dresses, this is the Middle Ages we all know as a little kid. The best part, is that everybody in the group did different variations of the houppelande or fitted v-neck gown, so we really looked like the amalgamation of color and hats that is seen in the period paintings. Totally worth the stress.

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I definitely like the veil over the hennin better.

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Awkward prom with my “husband.”
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It was breezy!
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We tried to emulate some poses we saw in paintings. Such as stabbing yourself, vomiting, and looking on in disdain. 
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“Behold, our barren field of…”

I had to throw in this last finishing touch. Maleficent leggings to give the stealth cosplay a bit more fluff.

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Gee wiz, I crack myself up.
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Price of Lularoe Disney Leggings: JUSTIFIED.