Why Heraldic Beasts Look Left

LionessOne of the first questions new Heralds and Artists ask me is, why does every animal look off to the left? Why is left the default position?

The answer comes from Heraldry’s Original Purpose: to distinguish a noble and their followers from all other. Heraldry is literally the oldest form of Identifying Friend or Foe, and Heraldic Displays were created for shields on the battlefield.

 

Righty

 

This drawing of myself as a Viking Shieldmaiden displays my registered heraldry, Azure, a winged ounce within an orle argent. I have the shield on my left arm and my axe in my right hand. My fierce Ounce Lioness looks like it is ready to jump off of my shield and attack my foes!

 

 

Fart

I joined the Society as a fencer because I wanted to learn to fence just like Tamora Pierce‘s Lady Knight Alanna the Lioness. As a fencer, I fought with my right hand.

About six months into the Society, I discovered I preferred Heavy List combat to Fencing. As I studied Heavy, I realized I am a much better fighter with my left hand than my right. So I re-strapped my shield to be worn on my right arm.

As you can see, a left-looking Lioness is not fierce. She looks like she is going to fart in your general direction.

Lefty

Here is my repainted shield, with my Lioness facing Sinister and fiercely threatening my opponents. Yes, the Sinister Lioness looks right. The default position, called Dexter, features a feline looking left.

In period, bastard sons would sometimes display their heraldry to sinister. The Heralds don’t care one way or the other, though one was to clear a device in conflict is to make the beast Sinister.

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A Tale of Two Chinstraps

PaintedHelmMany of my blog posts are dedicated to the sport of Heavy List fighting. The Society for Creative Anachronisms counts its members in hundreds of thousands, with roughly ten to twenty percent are fighters. This means not many sports equipment items are mass produced (aside from repurposed hockey and lacrosse gear). Fighters spend a lot of time creating, maintaining, and modifying their gear.

Heavy List helms are often the most expensive part of a fighter’s armor kit. This is my helm, made by my friend Hjalmar. He makes simple, solid, inexpensive helms and is willing to do a small amount of custom work for a bit extra. If you’re wondering why I have an oddly shaped “F” on my helm, it’s me being geeky. That rune is Ansuz, which is an “A” in the Old Norse alphabet. I chose it because I enjoy having a Viking version of Captain America’s helm. This is my creative anachronism.

Enough about my helm. This is a post about chin straps. Chin straps are a small part of a fighting kit, and they’re easy to not think about. I was fighting Duke Brennan in a tournament last year, and my helm slid off because I didn’t have a secure chin strap. I hope to live that down someday, but in the meantime I have put a lot of thought into chin strap designs. The photo shows my three piece chinstrap on the left, and the single piece chinstrap on the right.

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I created a PDF of the patterns by scanning the graph paper design I used for these two types of straps:   VedardottirChinStraps

WordPress does not display a preview PDFs,  so here is a small screen capture of the file.

When you print the PDF, be sure to choose the option that allows the PDF to expand to fill the entire page. “Fit to page” is the key phrase on most printers.

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Making your chinstrap will require a 5×8″ piece of leather that is as thick as a leather belt. You will need rivets and an anvil in addition to the tools described in my post Beginning Sewing and Leather Working.

 

leathertapedI cut the pattern out and placed it on the leather. Next, I taped the pattern onto the leather with masking tape. This keeps the pattern from sliding off the smooth leather as it is cut.

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Finally, punch the holes, then fold the leather over and rivet it together. This photo shows the loops of the more complicated chin strap. The strap cut from a single piece of leather simply folds over.

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.

This project is fairly simple, and makes use of the leather working tools I describe in my post Beginning Sewing and Leather Working.

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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!

List Tree Shields

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Twice a year in the spring and fall, each Kingdom in the SCA hosts Crown Tournament. This happens a few weeks after the Coronation of the new King and Queen, and determines who the next Prince and Princess will be. (My home, the East Kingdom, has not yet had a Queen by Right of Arms, or two monarchs of the same gender. Yet!)

Crown Tournaments will usually host between forty and eighty competitors and their consorts. Combatants are divided into pools, usually with the top two or four advancing to the next round. The period way to display who would be fighting where is to use list trees with small shields displaying the competitors’ arms.

This is when my work as an Armory Herald really makes a difference, and why it is so important for fighters to have Registered Devices with the SCA College of Heralds. While fighters are allowed to compete in Crown without registering their name and arms with the Heralds in the East Kingdom, they are strongly encouraged to register before the tournament.

Thorin

These are the arms of my friend Þórin Úlfsson: Azure, a dragon and a stallion combatant argent.

When he asked to fight for me at Crown Tournament in November, I insisted that he and I submit his name and arms as soon as possible. They are currently working their way through the registration process, and should pass before Pennsic 46.

This list tree shield is 10″ by 12″.

 

Wulf

In contrast, these are the arms of my friend and first Heavy List instructor, Baron Wulfhere of Stonemarche: Per fess argent and sable, a wolf’s head erased contourny and a clenched gauntlet counterchanged.

I made his a list tree shield because he left his at home  last Crown Tourney. I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. He may think I’m being silly, but I feel like arriving at the tournament without your shield tree is only slightly better than arriving without your helm!

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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