Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eight Strand Braid

   My sister convinced me to join Pinterest yesterday. I've already seen some interesting stuff on there, including this tutorial for braiding eight strands together, posted by another Shadowdalian. I saw it and the craft bug hit. It looked fun and easy and my SCA belt is MIA. But I'm not currently home, so I had to run to the local arts & crafts store and buy supplies. It was a Michael's, so the selection was minimal. I ended up buying some fasteners intended for necklaces and pendants to function as belt buckles. They didn't have any fasteners that jumped out at me (I bought a pack of plain ones in case I decide to give some away), so I had to do some finagling to make a pendant work. They also didn't have any string-type things similar to what the person in the tutorial was using in the colors of my device (the resubmission of which has finally been put on an ILoI. Yay!), so I ended up just going with yarn. This means the belt is very narrow (~1cm) and you can't make out the pattern anywhere near as well, which is fine. It's still functional, was fun to do, and I like the way it looks. And to top it all off, it only took about 2 1/2 hours to make.

Here's the pendant. I like that the two pieces fastened together look like they could be two parts of a belt buckle even though they aren't.
Here's an example of what the braiding looks like. I used two strands of black, one of silver, and one of blue (all doubled over to make eight strands). The black strands started on the outside.

To make it both removable and fastenable, I added the following steps to the parent tutorial:
1) Thread all loose ends through the other end of the pendant. I wanted the hanging part to be unbraided, but you could also braid it for the entire length if you so desire.
2) Slip it over your head and down to your waist, keeping track of the longest it needed to be to comfortably go around them.
3) While it's at this length, tie a knot just beyond the pendant. Pull to tighten and cut off unwanted length of thread beyond knot. This knot keeps the belt from coming out of that end.
4) To fix it in place, cinch it, then tie the same sort of loose knot as you would with the ring belts you see a lot in the SCA. To remove, just untie that knot and slip it back over your head and shoulders.

   UPDATE: I made this belt in Calontir's colors two days ago after finding a Joanne's with more selections. The buckle is actually intended to be part of a purse; I'm guessing the attachment for bag to handle. They had several options that work well as simple open buckles. The string is rattail cord. It's not period by any stretch of the imagination, but it's sturdy, holds it's shape well, and passes the 10-foot test. I could probably have left the end unknotted and it would be fine since it isn't prone to fraying, but I did it anyway just to be sure. It also makes the pattern very easy to see. The yellows both started on the outside, so there's a series of lopsided 'V''s running down its length.
   I did the braiding the entire length this time. It can accommodate up to about a 48" waist after being tied off. I intend to give it to the Crown as largesse, so the length puts much less of a restriction on who can wear it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Phrygian Caps Take Two

   I made a second Phrygian cap to wear at Lilies. It's my first war (a big interkingdom SCA event), and I wanted something patriotic to wear. This cap is designed as Calontir's populace badge (a badge than any Calontiri can wear to show their association with the kingdom). The blazon is "Purpure, a falcon striking within a bordure Or".

   I used this pattern to make a different style than my red hat. It's taller and has flaps over the ears. The purple part is one piece. When you cut it out, the backside of the cap is the midline, so you fold your fabric over there. The two pieces are stitched together along the crown.  There isn't any overlap in my finished piece. I think the point of it is to size it to different size heads, so I cut off the excess.

I had to trim the open edge around the face a bit to get it to look right, so play around with the pattern based on how it sits on your head. Another thing I did differently is that I didn't fold the back piece under as indicated on the other website. The back wasn't sitting low enough for my tastes and I'm not sure what the purpose of cutting that flap out was in the first place. I had already cut the slots, though, so I didn't sew them back together. Maybe they'll allow a bit of give when putting it on one's head? They're covered by the bordure.

   Like my red one, it's entirely made of felt. I don't know if steppe nomads did felt on felt designs, but they did felt on leather (like this saddle blanket). I didn't have purple leather, though, so I used some of the purple and yellow felt I had leftover from another project. I couldn't find my yellow or purple thread before I left town to do research, so I used black thread instead. Had I found them, the thread on the bordure would have been yellow and the rest purple.

   The stitching is all blanket stitching (like the last) except for the stitching on the falcons and the stitching holding the bordure on inside the cap- those I did as straight stitches. The internal border was to save time since no one will see it. I've never done embroidery before, so I have no idea if what I did on the falcon is period or even correct, but I had to show the internal detailing somehow.

Here, the top is depressed so the point points up.
   I did the bordure as separate pieces since there are so many turns. The stitching holding the pieces together is also blanket stitching, but I did that stiching on the underside so less thread would be visible on the outside.

Literature Review: The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History

I randomly found this book at the local bookstore (We’re still lucky enough to have a local non-chain bookstore. It’s fantastic and stocks all sorts of random stuff.). I highly recommend this series if your source is European, North African, or Near East.
The time range covered by this book is 40,000 BC – 362 AD, which means it cuts off before the traditionally cited (but unofficial) start date of the SCA period. Even if your persona is within standard SCA time, the end of this book might give you a little background. If not, try the next book, “The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History”. There are maps of language groups, cultural groups, civilizations, alphabets, population density, migrations- tons and tons of information, all presented very concisely in both the maps and the accompanying text.
The text is extremely helpful. In the introduction, the author points out the concessions and assumptions he’s made and his reasons for doing so where uncertainty exists in the academic literature. He also gives enough information so that you can look up the other hypotheses. He has a good sense of humor as well, so it’s quite entertaining. On top of all that, he even talks about what projection they picked for the maps and why.
Even though this book theoretically covers all of the above areas (and does in the maps themselves), the text focuses on only a few places. First, the focus is on the Mesopotamian area when civilization starts. Egypt gets brought in. Occasionally he spends some time talking about what the European “barbarians” are doing. For the most part, though, the focus is on the Mediterranean and Middle East minus the Arabian peninsula. There isn’t a lot of information on Sarmatians, but he does show where the three main tribes were at various points in time (no talk of the Aorsi or Siraces), and occasionally mentions them in the text. He doesn’t actually cover their absorption into other cultures, though. The Iazyges and Roxolani just kind of disappear and aren’t heard from again on maps or text. This happens a lot with those who are minor players in the grand scheme of things (at least from an Occidental point of view), which is understandable, if disappointing, given the small amount of space for text. The Alans are still around by the end of the period, though, and are covered in the next book.
Now I just need to get a hold of it. The index is visible via Amazon’s “Look Inside” preview and the Alans are mentioned in text eight times with an unknown number of inclusions on the maps and their language mentioned once. There’s at least a bit of coverage of their invasion of Gaul.
Minimal Sarmatian representation aside, I still recommend this book. It’s a fun read and if you’re a fan of maps, you’ll really enjoy it. Aim to get the revised editions if available, since they’ve been updated in light of new discoveries and realizations.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Symposium Notes and Lilies Classes 2012

I wasn't able to finish translating my tamga book before the Symposium class, so it was only very basic. I had one attendee and really enjoyed talking with her. She has an Armenian persona and it turns out they're a very fascinating people. If you aren't sure what persona you want and you're a bibliophile, consider being Armenian because they hold the written word in very high regard.

I'm continuing to translate the book and teaching the tamga class again in its intended complete version at Lilies. I'll also be teaching a cooking class. Both are RUSH classes, so you'll get credit for attending. Here's the information. Hope to see some of you there!

"Jiǎozi and Guōtiē: How to Make Chinese Dumplings
Lady Aritê gunê Akasa
Monday, June 11 1-4 PM
 Chepe Tent
In this hands-on course, you will learn how to make pork and beef versions of two types of traditional Chinese dumplings completely from scratch. You will start by making stuffing, skins, and dipping sauce. Then, you will learn how to fold and stuff them. We will cook dumplings as they are folded and end class by eating them. Vegans and vegetarians, please note that though we will only be making meat dumplings,learning how to make and fold dumpling skins would still be applicable to you.
Course Length (in hours): 3   Level of Instruction: Beginn
er Class size limited to 10.  Minimum Age: 16  Course Fee: $5  Materials to be Supplied by Students: Bring chopsticks and medium-sized bowls if you have them. I can provide a few extras. Class Number: LIFE 62"

"Tamga: Heraldry for Steppe Nomad and Turkic Personas
Lady Aritê gunê Akasa
Tuesday, June 2 10-11 Am
Brummbar Tent
Tamga are abstract symbols employed by steppe nomad and Turkic peoples for similar purposes to those of standard European armory. If you have a persona from one of these cultures and would like your armory to reflect that, this class will give an overview of their history and use, as well as compare different types. By the end, everyone should be able to construct their own tamga or know what references to look up. The class will start with a lecture and end with a discussion.
Course Length (in hours): 1   Level of Instruction: Beginner Class Number: HERL 13"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Drawing an Animal in Heraldic Style

Heraldic animals are not realistic. They’re very stylized in a way that emphasizes parts that are considered to make it recognizable from a distance and also considered to be important parts of the animal. Like many things, that doesn’t always hold true, but it is a general rule and if you follow standard heraldic style when submitting in the SCA, you’re less likely to draw something that ends up being bounced for stylistic reasons. I recently had the opportunity to draw an emblazon for a client with an animal that I could not find a good exemplar of online. The animal was a natural tiger* statant (standing).
Since I didn’t have a good heraldic exemplar, I had to draw it from scratch. When I do this, I start with pictures of the real animal, then modify it to make it look more heraldic. Here are the reference pictures I used and what I ended up drawing.
I used the heads of these tigers because I couldn't find a straight profile shot of an actual tiger.
There are several ways in which the two are different. The proportions are the first. A heraldic animal has a slightly larger head and larger feet. It also has a cinched waist if it is a mammal (think about greyhounds). The mouth is often drawn open if the animal is not an herbivore. If you want to draw an open mouth, the tongue is elongated and extends beyond the tip of the snout. The teeth will probably be a bit bigger as well. Sometimes (not always) the ears are larger; I opted for that here since it makes the spots on the tiger’s ears more noticeable. The tail is emphasized as well and the end is almost always held erect. If it has a tuft on its tip, this is enlarged and tufts may come off other parts of the tail as well.
Another thing which can change proportions is that heraldic artists tried to fill up white space in period. Don’t have a tiny, lonely charge just pasted onto the very center of its section of the shield- have it fit the section of the shield. Making a charge fit its section of the shield sometimes means distorting the proportions and sometimes means distorting the attitude. Look at the arms of the king of England, for example- three lions passant in pale. To fit those lions one on top of each other, they are drawn with elongated bodies and shortened limbs.
I’ve seen some SCA heraldic artists “filling the space” to an extreme to the point that in some cases I would argue the charge becomes unrecognizable because there isn’t enough white space  to make the outline of the shape easy to see. I’ve seen some of those pass, though, so it isn’t necessarily a barrier to registration. Just be careful about it.
Another thing you’ll notice is that heraldic style is what I like to think of as “roadkill style”. Charges are drawn as though they were actually 2D, not to give the illusion of being 3D (with very rare and particular exception). They are not drawn at angles- typically they are in profile view, though some attitudes are views from the front (affronty, cabossed) or from above (tergiant). In all cases, the animal is not drawn from a pure side view like a realist would draw, though. They are squashed and flattened so that the maximum number of body parts are visible. The main part of the body may be straight from the side, but you can still see both ears, at least parts of all limbs, and all the toes as well. 
The feet of a heraldic feline are much different from a real feline’s paw. All toes are visible, separated, and claws are completely extended. One is drawn as though it were behind the others (the one on top), and the others are drawn so as to be completely visible from tip to base. Imagine you’re holding the cat by the scruff of its neck and it’s paws are waving in the air- the cat would not actually be able to stand on paws extended in heraldic style (if heraldic style paws are even physically possible).
 Whatever you draw, always familiarize yourself with examples from period heraldry, and look for a many as possible. If you can't find exactly what you're looking for, try the same animal in different attitudes, or similar animals in the same attitude (or even similar animals in different attitudes). That is the hands down best way to make sure you at least approximate period style. Also look for examples from your persona's time and place. You might find a different style than elsewhere (some German eagles don't even look like eagles) and I am a huge supporter of drawing to fit your persona's period when it differs from the SCA period as a whole.

*You have to say natural tiger in the blazon because there is a heraldic animal spelled as “tyger” in period which doesn’t actually look like a tiger (medieval Europeans had to do a lot of guesswork with animals they hadn’t seen in life, and sometimes the interpretations they came up with were nothing like the actual animal). If you register a tyger in the SCA, it’s the heraldic monster instead of the real animal.