A Herald Stick for Crown Tournament

The SCA holds a Crown Tournament twice a year, in the fall and spring. The winner and their consort then become the Royal Heirs, and six months later they are crowned royalty. This puts a lot of pressure on the Heavy List fighters who compete, and can be dangerous if the spectators stand too close. To keep everyone safe, the combat spaces are marked by waist-high ropes, and Marshals sometimes need to place their staff against the back of a fighter’s armor and loudly tell them, “This is the Edge of the World!”

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In addition to the Marshals, Voice Heralds will be the only people on the fields who are not in armor. Many of them wear white and carry a one- or two-foot white painted Herald Stick. As both a Heavy List fighter and a Herald, I wanted my Herald Stick to be close to the length of a Marshal Stick, but painted white instead of a Marshal’s yellow-and-black. I bought a heavy duty hardwood closet pole to become my stick.
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I wanted my stick to have rounded ends, like a larger version of the normal herald sticks. I had a drywall plane left over from another woodworking project, so I used it to take the edges off of my stick. I could have used a carving knife or a rasp, but this was faster.

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This is how I started to cut the curve out of the top of my stick, working hard to make the top curve, and lightly taking the wood away farther from the top.

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This is the rough shape of the top of the staff. I deliberately left a bit of the purple end marking on the very top, to show just how much material was cut away.

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Here is the rounded stick top after I used sandpaper to even out the rough edges. I prefer a smooth curve.

Once both ends were rounded, I put the stick on newspaper and sprayed primer on it. After the primer dried, I gave the entire stick a coat of white paint.8

 

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Most herald sticks are just plain white, but I wanted my stick to have my name on it. So I put masking tape on both sides of the stick, to keep the writing neat and even.

This is written in the Elder Futhark runes, and says, “Skald Þórý Veðardóttir”. A skald is a Norse poet and historian, a proclaimer of deeds and a teller of tales.

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After I completed this project, I ended up wandering around to campfires in the evenings and reciting Sassafrass’ Futhark Song (and some of their other songs, as well.) I realized it was far more fun and educational to be able to show each rune I was talking about. So I stripped the sealer off of the back of my Herald Stick and painted all twenty-four letters on it. I also included the English equivalents.

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Better Sunglasses in a Helm

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Last year I made a post about wearing sunglasses in a helm. Since then, I’ve bought a new helm, and my old sun protection was not covering as much as I needed. So I bought some film intended for blacking out car windows, and then worked on how to secure it in my helm.

 

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The band that held my old sunglasses on my head kept slipping off, so I needed a way to attach the sun protection directly to my helm. I took industrial grade velcro (which has adhesive) and covered the interior of the eye openings with it. I made absolutely sure that the velcro inside my helm was the soft kind! The rough half of the velcro is attached to my new sun shades.

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I needed a way to attach the film to my helm. Since this project needed to be durable and fraying fabric would be a problem, I decided this project would incorporate leather working instead of sewing. I made a pattern by folding a piece of paper in half and tracing the eye opening with a pencil.

If your helm doesn’t have a conveniently traceable set of eye holes, I encourage you to decide how far down you need sun protection, and make the edges of the leather at that point. If you’re working alone, tape the folded paper over one eye, look in a mirror, and decide how far down to make the lower edge. You probably won’t need to have the sun shade past the tip of your nose.

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Folding the paper in half allows me to make us of bilateral symmetry. Or in plain English, folding the paper in half and cutting out the design makes it look professional because both halves of the design are identical. Here is the pattern on my helm.

While I was making these sun shades, I kept checking the work in progress against the helm. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in making a thing that small mistakes can produce an item that’s ultimately unusable.

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There’s a saying about how you should “measure twice and cut one.” I measure about four or five times just to be sure I have everything correct for each stage of the project.

Here’s the leather that will become the backing of my sun shades. It leaves the eye holes open to maximize my shaded field of view.

 

IMG_20170925_172353Next, I took my leather pattern and put it down on graph paper. Once I traced the outline, it was easy enough to guesstimate the center of the leather. On that penciled line I marked every two squares (which is every half inch) so that the punched holes for my thread would be regular. You can see how I miscounted on the lower left side, and crossed off a few hole notations.

 

One question I’m often asked is, why do I go to such an effort to make my gear look professional? It’s just for my use and nobody will be looking at it as closely as I am. I have several reasons. First, being in the habit of making things with care means that when I receive a commission, my work will look good. Second, a large part of why I receive creative commissions is because I go to such lengths to make my work look good. (I hope I’ve accurately shown this in my blog. In many ways, this is my portfolio!)

Finally, the most important reason I take such care is strength and durability. With this sun shade, if I punched the leather anywhere I felt like, some stitches would be farther from the edges than other, and those irregularities lead to weak points and to the eventual breakdown of my work. Since I’m putting this much effort into my craft projects, I don’t want to be endlessly repeating the same projects.

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Enough of the soap box. Once I had my pattern set, I cut it out of the plastic shade film and taped sharp-side-out velcro onto both the film and the leather. Notice how I taped everything down to the cutting mat.

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The shade film was slippery, so I needed to secure it with a lot of masking tape before I started punching holes.

 

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Once the holes were punched, I took the pattern layer off. You can see some of the holes I punched in the tape.

 

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I left the tape attached until I was ready to stitch all of the layers of my sun shades together.

 

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The layers: velcro, shade film, and just barely visible leather backing it all. The shade film is flimsy, so the leather is as much structural as it is a measure of comfort in my helm.

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Here is the completed  back side. It’s easier to see the stitches here. I close brown leather to make the stitches visible.

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Finally, here is what my helm looks like with the sun shades in place. My final challenge is to remember to have a picture taken when I’m wearing it!

 

Beginning Sewing and Leather Working

Before I explain how to create clothing and accessories from fabric and leather, I will explain what tools are required for each craft. There are entire industries built around selling tools and supplies for sewing and working leather, but most beginners’ projects require nothing more than a good pattern, careful planning, and time.

Here is a comparison of the tools needed to begin sewing fabric verses what is needed to begin working with leather.

Sewing Fabric Working Leather
Tools: fabric, scissors, needle, thread, pins, iron, chalk, ruler, graph paper, pencil Tools: leather, utility knife, cutting mat, needle, thread or cord, leather punches, rubber or wooden mallet, masking tape, metal ruler, graph paper, felt tip pen
What not to buy: a sewing machine. Learn how fabric, seams, and an iron are used to shape and form projects. What not to buy: a starter kit. Many of the included tools will not be used. Punches, cutting tools, and cord will be enough for most projects.
Materials: scrap fabric is easy to obtain. Sheets from Goodwill make excellent fabric mockups, which are called ‘muslins’. Materials: scrap leather is harder to find and more expensive than fabric. Leather jackets from Goodwill and stripping leather couches on the side of the road are inexpensive options.
Mistakes: easily corrected, but fraying is an issue. Multiple seams are needed to prevent fraying. Mistakes: harder to correct, but fraying is never an issue. One seam per edge is usually enough.
Teachers: someone in the local SCA group will know how to sew, and can explain the basics. Teachers: there might be someone who can teach leather working in the SCA group. If not, ask for lessons on the FaceBook groups, and be prepared to drive to an event or someone’s house.

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Here are my basic sewing tools. I also have an ironing board. If you don’t have the space for a board or cannot afford one, laying a clean towel on top of a table will give you a reasonable ironing surface. The iron is critical because it presses seams, making projects look professional.

 

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In contrast, these are my basic leather working tools. I find the metal triangular ruler extremely helpful for working leather because it lets me align and cut right angles. Note that my cutting mat is grey. You may find blue or green mats in sewing stores, but these are intended for fabric cutting and should not be used with a leather punch or a utility knife.

Making a Heraldic Plushie

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One of the silly things I’ve seen SCA members do is buy (or make) plushies of their Heraldry. Since my Heraldry is a silver winged cat, I doubt I’ll be able to buy an off-the-shelf plushie anytime soon.

After some thought, I realized I could just get a white cat plushie and find a similar bird or bat plushie to use for wings. Since Beanie Babies are small and made from similar materials, I was able to find a white cat and a swan on eBay cheaply. (When I posted about this on my FaceBook, someone mentioned the swan plushie is often given red sequins and presented to a new Pelican.)

A little work with a thread and needle, and I give you Argent, my Winged Lioness plushie. I also decided to make her a collar with my badge, since she should be identifiable as one of my possessions. Badges are the Heraldic equivalent of saying, “This is mine.”

 

Building a Brick Oven at Pennsic

Pennsic is a two-week-long SCA camping event held in August that has about 10,000 attendees. People are organized by camps. Camp Crook’d Cat is located on The Strand near the solar showers. The camp focuses on cooking period meals over a campfire and in a brick oven. These photos were taken on Setup Sunday of Pennsic 45.2016-08-01-10-57-14

Before the oven goes in, a wooden box is constructed and filled with dirt. This adds to fire safety and provides a level space to build the oven floor. The floor and roof are made from paving tiles, and the sides are built with brick.

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Making sure the floor is flat is critical for even cooking, so we use a carpenter’s level to check the paving stones’ alignment. We make sure to check each paving stone as it is added to the oven.

 

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Finally, the oven floor is complete. Note how the tiles butt against each other, with no cracks running the length of the oven.

 

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The first row of bricks for the oven walls are leveled, and carefully measured against the oven doors. Sometimes we can use doors for a few years.

 

 

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Because the Pennsic site is on top of a bed of clay, we can use clay and water to cement the bricks. Mudding the bricks is very similar to frosting a cake. As each row of brick is added, we check it with a level and use extra clay and small stones to ensure the walls are even.

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The third layer of bricks juts into the oven to form a shelf for trays of bread. Cakes, pies and other baked things also use these shelves.

 

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Every row requires verification that the oven is being built evenly. It’s annoying, but uneven ovens don’t bake at a constant temperature. (The one picture I wish I could share would show the walls having its alignment tested. This also helps the oven bake evenly.)2016-08-01-16-25-09

The top of the oven is completed with large paving stones. Mudded bricks cover the crack on the top of the oven, ensuring even heating throughout.

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Here’s the completed oven, waiting for logs to be shoved inside so it can heat. Doors at both ends make this part of the process easier and safer for the cooks.

Don’t Rush Sewing!

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One danger of sewing is rushing to finish a project. This can lead to all sorts of mistakes, from forgetting to press your seams with an iron to stabbing yourself with a needle. (Many crafters believe that a project isn’t “yours” until you’ve bled on it. My project goals include not having to use my First Aid kit.)

I’m going on a road trip in a few days, and I wanted to bring some projects to work on en route. One of the things on my to-make list is a Norse tunic to wear when I’m volunteering at Heralds’ Point. Most of my garb is blue with silver accents, but because author Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds wear all white, many Scadian Heralds do as well.

I have learned that the easiest way to construct a Norse T-tunic is to cut out the torso pieces, lay them flat, and complete the neck opening while the entire project is flat.

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In order to keep the fabric of the neck from fraying, I sew a rectangular piece of cloth that comes down to a point around the neck. All of my other projects have a contrasting color of fabric at the neck and cuffs, but this project is all about white fabric, blue train, and blue stitching in contrast to the white.

Because this tunic doesn’t have a contrasting collar, I didn’t  bother to stitch the under layer neatly before I added the trim. I didn’t notice how  irregular it was until after I’d finished stitching the trim. I considered removing all the stitching and redoing this properly.

I have chosen to keep the irregular neck. It is not only a useful reference point for my progression as a historical seamstress, but a way of showing newer sewers what not to do. The complexity of Scadian garments can be daunting to newcomers. I’m keeping this as a reminder that nobody becomes an expert without a few mistakes.

All About Paint

paint2Mundanely, I went to school for Architecture. I took a number of artistic classes including photography and painting. I fell in love with acrylic paint, which was fast-drying, easy to work with, and could be cleaned with water. I have artistic friends who swear by oil paint. (I tend to swear at oil paint because it takes days to dry!)

While acrylics were nice, they had a tendency to crack and chip if applied to a flexible surface. My LARP interests drew me to Liquitex Paint, which is flexible when dry. Panther Primitive Tents recommend Liquitex Paint for adding details to their canvas tents. They recommend  watering down the Liquitex to a ratio of three parts water to one part paint.

pursewipAlso, this stuff keeps indefinitely. Back in 2009, I was planning to attend the World Science Fiction Convention is Montreal. Author Seanan McGuire was also attending, and I’d been chatting with her via LiveJournal for about a year. I really wanted to make her a piece of Fan Art to thank her for making me giggle with silly posts. She said she loved the color orange and My Little Pony, so I painted a pony onto a purse I bought secondhand. This was the base coat: I’d printed a pony picture, cut it out, and traced the outline with paint.

pursedoneThis is the finished purse. I painted white highlights over Applejack’s hair, and added a black outline. This is exactly the same technique I use to paint heraldry onto shields. In fact, the bottle of yellow paint in this photo is the same one I’m using today. (The white bottle gave up its ghost for the Pennsic Heraldry Boards.)

Painting is fun; it’s like tracing with a brush. And if you mess up with Liquitex, just take a piece of damp paper towel to the bad section, remove the offending paint, and draw the lines again. Painting isn’t hard; it’s tricky. Knowing the tricks makes all the difference between the work of a novice verses a master.