Building a Heavy List Sword

I’m very happily a part of the Society for Creative Anachronism now, but my introduction to weekends in funny clothes running around in the woods was LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). Many LARPers ask why I stopped playing, and my answer is simply that I was bored. Every LARP game is different, requiring different weapons, costumes, armor, props, et cetera.

The SCA is an additive lifestyle: the same name and armory I registered three years ago still pertain to me, and will continue to be my own twenty years from now. My starter garb is loaner gear, but it still has a use, unlike my old character’s Mercenary Guildmaster Coat (which I gave to a friend for a burlesque costume.) One of the things I spent a lot of time on between LARP events was building boffer weapons from kite pole, pipe foam, and duct tape. I’m relieved that my +10 skill in Use Duct Tape have an application in the SCA!

When you want to make your own weapons, talk to your local Knight Marshall or the person who runs your practice about where to buy rattan and a basket hilt. Rattan is the key to Heavy combat. It’s a relative of bamboo, and pulps when it’s destroyed, instead of shattering like wood.

Many people shave their rattan down with a belt sander or a knife. Be sure that the diameter of your rattan is no smaller than 1.25″ so your sword will be legal. Our helms only allow a 1″ gap between the bars to make sure weapons will never hit our faces.

I’m using the starter black plastic basket on my sword. It’s cheap, light, and unlike shiny metal it won’t give away my position in a woods battle. (I stopped LARPing, but I have sixteen years of LARPer habits, where the difference between death and survival is how easily I can disappear in the woods.)

Baron Valerian swears that attaching baskets to rattan with fiberglass strapping tape is better than using metal strapping because tape can be repaired in the field with just a knife. I think this makes sense, and I prefer using tape. My basket is attached to my rattan by several wraps of strapping tape.


Next, I added a thrusting tip made from two layers of blue camp foam. I put the end of the rattan on the foam and traced it with a sharpie, and attached it with more fiberglass strapping tape. Then I covered the rest of my blade with long strips of strapping tape. This layer of extra tape will make replacing the duct tape a quick and easy job instead of a fight against five or six layers of gummed duct tape.


Once the entire blade is covered in strapping tape, add a layer of duct tape.


Finally, add a blade to your weapon with electrical tape. I appear to be out of black electrical tape, so I used some of my red tape that’s left over from my days of making monster claws for LARPs. This sword is red-y to go!


Applying Graphic Design to Heraldry: Aggressive vs. Passive Elements

ScaryDeerMay of the Heraldic Devices I draw are straightforward requests like “I want a lion and a boar” or “I want a cat with a book in blue and white.” One of the few real challenges I’ve had was a client who wanted a stag’s head within an “O.” She didn’t like how aggressive the stag in the Pennsic Traceable Art Project looks. The Traceable Art stag is shown on the right.

This stag’s head is designed to evoke aggression, because heraldic shields were originally used to identify their owners on the field of battle. Notice how many diagonal lines it has: the shape of the eyes and brows, the ears, the snout and the neck lines are all jagged diagonals, similar to icicles or carnivore teeth. Even the curves of the stag’s horns are diagonals.

LadyOThe counterpoint to aggressive diagonal lines is using soft circles. (Horizontal and vertical lines are more neutral.) So I doodled some circles, trying to make a stag’s head with as many circular elements as possible.  I made a point of keeping the head and the circle of the horns as equal in size as possible, since the entire head needed to fit in an “O.” If either the horns or the head had greater size, it would make the resulting design seem unbalanced.

Deliberately making an unbalanced design jolts the viewer out of their comfort zone, and is a good way to communicate aggression.


The final version required me to redraw the “O” in a more period font. As per the client’s request, I colored the “O” green and the stag’s head red.

Pattern Making 102: A Laundry Bag

Laund1Continuing my theme of making patterns using old curtains, I made a laundry bag for a wooden frame I bought for $5 at Goodwill. If you have a limited budget and need fabric for garb, baskets for feast gear, or cups and plates you don’t mind being broken, the best places to look are yard sales and Goodwill. Sometimes you will find linen sheets at Goodwill, and linen makes the best garb. 100% cotton sheets are almost as good, but you should avoid any sort of polyester or poly blend because these fabrics do not breathe well.

I misplaced the laundry bag that came with this frame when I was moving, so I needed to make a pattern from scratch. I put the frame down on some of my sketch paper and traced it.

Land4Sketch pads are one of the best ways to record patterns you make for yourself and others. This is the second newsprint pad I’ve bought since I joined the SCA three years ago, and I find them invaluable in pattern making. Even when I make a fabric mock-up (which is called a “muslin”) I prefer to copy the fabric pattern onto paper. It’s much easier to store paper patterns than fabric patterns, and I keep all of mine folded neatly in 9×12″ mailing envelopes.

Once I had the wooden frame drawn on paper in red, I sketched the shape of the hanging laundry bag in blue. This sketch isn’t pretty, or even symmetrical, so I’m going to using bilateral symmetry to make it look better.


I cut out half of the design, then folded it over. I then cut out the second half of the design as a mirror of the first half. Folding paper patterns and copying half of an image is an old trick taught elementary school, and it’s easy to forget. (I think making garb is much more fun than cutting out paper snowflakes or leaves!)


Finally, I measured the outside edge of the pattern so I knew how long a piece to cut to make the rest of the laundry bag. The curtain wasn’t quite long enough to go around, so I made the modification look intentional. I left the curtain loops on the top edge of the bag and hiding button holes behind them.


Since I’m making this laundry bag for my own use, I decided to add a feature that I wish every laundry bag had: backpack straps. I’d like to find more period replacements for the plastic buckles eventually.


Here’s the finished laundry bag, with its straps. I’ll set the laundry holder so my Badge faces out and the backpack straps are hidden. From a designer’s point of view, the straps are more important than my Heraldic Badge, which you may be tired of seeing!

Pattern Making 101: A Large Pouch

I originally wanted to call this post “It’s Curtains for You!” because I made a large fabric pouch for my portable fire pit out of some old curtains. I realized a series of blog posts labeled with how to make patterns would be much more helpful.

Curtains1I bought a folding firepit roughly two feet in diameter. After five years of use, the naugahyde carrying case was falling apart.  I put the old case down on a pair of curtains I hadn’t used in years, and cut out a copy of the shape. (The second curtain became a related project.)  I made sure to leave a good two inches of extra fabric beyond the edges of the old case so that I would have a Seam Allowance and the fire pit could slide in and out.

Seam Allowance is one of the most important parts of pattern creation. If you put your favorite tunic down on a piece of fabric and cut the fabric to the same size as your shirt, when you sew the new tunic together it will be too small. (I learned this the hard way!) When you copy an existing pattern, leave about one to two inches extra on the edges of your pattern pieces. (You need to do this for every piece of the pattern, so when you cut sleeves to sew onto a tunic, make sure to leave an inch for the shoulder seam on both the upper arm and the torso pieces.)


I made two pieces for this bag. The front piece with is shaped like a “U” and ends just above the buttons.

The other piece is a much taller “U.” It has enough extra fabric to fold over the front of the bag. This completely covers the fire pit when it’s disassembled.

I added two carrying handles made from folded over strips of spare fabric. Finally, I sewed my Heraldic Badge onto the front of the pouch.


Curtains3 This is the finished pouch, next to its fire pit. It’s a little hard to see the shorter handle on the back of the pouch. I had to make the two handles different lengths because the top part part of the pouch fold over itself. The original pouch had a zipper, but I wanted to avoid modern anachronisms as much as possible.

Yes, a folding fire pit is not a medieval item. This is part of how the SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronisms. Medieval people could dig fire pits in the ground. Modern campers have to leave campsites undisturbed and must fit all their gear in a car, so we use slightly-less-than-period alternatives. Maybe in a few centuries, reenactors will be recreating our little quirks!

Personalizing a Feast Gear Chest

Feasts in the Society of Creative Anachronisms are delicious, but require attendees to provide their own cup, plate, bowl, and silverware. I’d forgotten to pack my feast gear a few months ago, and decided it was time for me to make a chest for carrying my gear. I also bring loaner gear for newcomers or people who forgot theirs.


I started with an unfinished chest from Jo-Anne. These run about $40, but if you sign up for their mailing list, they give a 50% discount on one item. In addition the chest, you will need a stain and sealer, or a product that does both. (Any hardware store will can supply this.) I also used acrylic paint to add my Heraldic Badge to the chest, and some scrap leather to replace the handles and finish the top of the chest.


The first step was carefully removing all the nails and hardware. I chose to use tiny silver stud nails to replace the originals because I wanted a silver-and-black color scheme.

Once the hardware was gone, I painted my Badge onto the top of the chest. Many Society members use boxes from Jo-Anne’s and Michael’s, so adding something to your chest to identify it as yours helps avoid confusion. (If you’re not much of an artist, using an unusually colored stain is helpful; not many people stain their wooden boxes green, blue, red, or purple.) Be sure any paint is dry before you stain the chest.



I stained the inside and outside of my chest over the course of several days. Check the label on your stain and sealer to see how long you should leave your project alone to dry.



Once the stain was dry, I added strips of leather around the outer edge and hammered it into place. It’s much easier to work with the box when it’s in separate pieces, so I recommend putting the hinges on last.



Here’s the completed chest. I replaced the bronze clasp with an antler toggle to make it look more Viking. I also replaced the metal handles with strips of black suede. I drilled small holes in the sides of the box and sewed the handles in place with sinew. Exchanging the small metal handles for larger leather straps made the chest easier to carry.

One thing I learned the hard way was not to replace the metal hinges with leather ones. The leather hings wiggled all over the place, made the chest impossible to close, and no matter how many knots I made in the cord, they kept wiggling loose. I didn’t like the original metal hinges, and replaced them with black cast iron ones from the local hardware store.

Sunglasses in a Helm

Editorial Note: Since I made this post, I have revised how to incorporate sun shades in a helm.

As a Heavy List fighter with sensitive eyes, sunglasses worn inside my helm are a necessity. It’s also a design challenge, because wearing any sort of glasses in a helm results in the marshal telling you to take them off, or broken glasses. (Doing both of these does not earn bonus points.)

My solution is to wear Rollens, disposable wraparound sunglasses. Both eBay and Amazon carry them, and any optometrist’s office can probably sell or give you a pair. I first made a headband from duct tape to keep them on my head, and then I went home and sewed headband with elastic and linen. The photo below was my first version of this project. I keep it as a backup, but the plastic resting right on my skin is uncomfortable.


The next iteration of this project focused on completely covering the edges of the plastic in linen. (I insist on working with linen instead of cotton because linen wicks sweat like high-tech fabrics, and it is both period and less expensive.)  I made this paper pattern, which is 6×24 inches. (I added the Rollens for scale.) Leaving a notch for the nose makes the eyeband more comfortable, and keeps the band in place on your face. There are four eye holes, because folding the fabric in half lengthwise saves stitching and makes a pocket for the Rollens.


This is my finished eyeband. I stitched through the Rollens to keep it from  moving around. There is an elastic inside the fabric that keeps the band around my head without a fabric knot inside the helm.



Strength Training Exercises

I have rheumatoid arthritis, which makes my life as a Heavy List fighter challenging. Lord Tiernan runs the Melee Training Days at Police Athletic League in the Barony of Smoking Rocks (Fall River, MA). He’s also a fitness trainer among the muggles, and has let me share the workout plan he gave me with all of you.

The best to find demonstration videos is YouTube. The exercises listed below are easy to look up on the CrossFit Channel. Strength training is shown on the Diesel Channel.

These exercises have a three-day rotation to ensure all the muscle groups are activated. You should do two or three sets as a warm up, then add weight each set until you reach a weight that you can just get for 5 reps. Every time that day’s rotation comes up, try to add 5 lbs. of weight to the set. Keep a notebook logging which day’s exercise you are on, how many reps you did, and what weight or resistance you used.

Day 1

Warm up with stretches and a foam roller.

Elliptical or Rowing Machine  for ten minutes.

Step ups or box jumps: three reps 3 times – rest 30 seconds between sets.

Ten Hindu Squats  – rest 30 seconds.

Ten Hindu Pushups – rest 30 seconds.

Kettle Bell Squats: five reps five times – rest 2 minutes between sets.  The easiest way to squat correctly is to stand at the corner of a box so that your feet and the corner of the box make a “W.” Holding a kettlebell at chest level by the “horns,” you sit down on the box, then stand up once your butt touches the box.


Close Grip Bench Press : five reps five times – rest 2 minutes between sets.

Deadlift: five reps five times – rest 2 minutes between sets.


Toe Touch Sit Ups: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Pull Down: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Reverse Curls: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.


Day 2

Warm up with stretches and a foam roller.

Elliptical or Rowing Machine  for ten minutes.

Kettle Bell Squats: five reps five times – rest 2 minutes between sets.

Russian Twists: ten reps twenty times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Lunges: ten reps twenty times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Straight Leg Calf Raises: ten reps twenty times – rest 1 minutes between sets.


Day 3

Warm up with stretches and a foam roller.

Elliptical or Rowing Machine  for ten minutes.

Kettle Bell Squats: three reps three times – rest 2 minutes between sets. Note: the reps are lower than previous days!

Bench Press: three reps three times – rest 2 minutes between sets. Note: these reps are also lower than previous days!

Pull Ups: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Pushups: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.

Dumbbell Curls: three reps fifteen times – rest 1 minutes between sets.