Friday, July 20, 2012

Update on projects - Fish and Loaves, T-minus 1 week

So - I've finished all my projects for Steppes Artisan to this point.

Things completed:
Brocaded fish
Fish Mammen silk
Fish Mammen linen/wool
Fish Mammen linen
Added cork and lead to the fishing net
Made netting 'sampler'

Things to do before Saturday morning:
Grind a bit more spelt for the bread and display
Make bread (Friday night or Saturday morning in the hotel - nice and fresh!)
Bottle garum (done every day)
Pack garum (5 gallon bucket, in garbage bag to prevent failure)
Make net supports

Today we're going to go out in the coracle and try floating the net to see how it works in the water with floats and weights - should be interesting.

And now - some of my brocade pieces :) I'd love commentary on the little fish - I think the pieces really show how my brocading has evolved.
A Rainbow of Fish

Look - goldfish!

Dr. Seussian fish :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fish and Loaves - a body of work

Wow - long time, no post on here.

I'm planning on entering Steppes Artisan in July. This is a 'body of work' event, where the artisan sits with his/her work, and the previous winners 'judge' and talk to them. At the end of the event, the past winners (with the B&B of the Steppes) pick the next Steppes Artisan. So each year, there's 1 more judge, although not all of them attend every year. This is a very prestigious event, and many of the Artisans are Laurels (even if they weren't when they won.)

Anyway - while it's a 'body of work' event, I've actually shown most of my pieces in the past, so I like to do new things and show what my current interests are.

This year, my personal theme is 'Fish and Loaves'. It's a quote from 'The Odd Couple: Female Version', and I think it suits my current interests rather well. So far, my tentative list of items:

Fishing net. I'm finally ready to add weights and floats, and I even have some good references to cork in an Iron Age context. I'm going to be playing with lead to make the right weights, and then I'm going to buy some natural cork hunks to make the floats. The 21 ft hemp net is already done, so I think this project has a good chance of being complete, finally.

Garum. I've got a new batch that I just started. Hopefully a better ratio of salt to fish parts will avoid the salted, dry ... stuff that I got last fall. We'll see how this goes. I even have a new pot that I'm 'brewing' it in, since a kitty litter bucket didn't seem quite right.

Fishing Mammen TW. I made one piece out of linen and gave it as a gift - I'm now making a similar band in silk to get the pattern down, and then I'm going to play with variations. I am going to finally attempt brocade, and if it works, it should be humorous, to say the least: Goldfish, anyone? I'm also going to do an experiment to show how Collingwood was incorrect about his analysis of the original Mammen piece. I plan to weave one section in multiple fibers (silk/linen or wool/linen, not sure yet) and then I'm going to cut out the linen, to show what the weave would look like in 'two hole' technique, a la Collingwood. It should be interesting, to say the least.

Coracle Supported Research paper. I don't have my coracle (it died last year) - but I have my 50 pg paper on it, including fold-out timeline. So - it's there, it fits the theme, there you go.

I'll have my supported research paper on the quern, with samples of spelt bread made from hand-ground spelt flour. I am teaching a class on the technique in June, so it should work well. I would LOVE to have time to make my own quern, and we've talked about doing a class on it - but if not, I'll use the Coritani quern.

Oh yeah - and dessert will be sugared fruit, because ...well, it's dessert! I have sugared apricots, plums (from my friend's tree) and new this year: loquats! They are a bit strange - but they taste good.

So there - my plans. I have until the end of July to accomplish this - but I'm well on my way, I think.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

3/1 Twill Laurel Leaf Fillet - For Seawinds Defender

So after playing with the idea of Pelican/Laurel trim, I had the idea of making a circlet for a recently elevated Laurel (her 'wreath' at elevation was gorgeous, but not an 'every day' kind of headwear).

So - her color choice was red (Rus like red!) so I went with the red and white background with green leaves. I used a different red from the first band - more of a maroon. I still need to get a new sweater with a 'pure' red - but now right now.

According to the website, the theme for the event is 'The Silk Road' - so silk was appropriate for the material. But they also asked for some documentation. Now - this is a pattern I created myself, but it is based on a small motif from a historical example. And the technique is obviously period, although using the inkle loom isn't. So - I figured I'd do a quick write-up.

Heheh - but that's not me! I now have a 9 page write up, with a full page bibliography, 5 images, 2 Excel graphs, and a whole lot of info for the judge to read. And this is LIGHT documentation - not something I'd enter into Kingdom A&S or anything!

So - here's the band. It's on the scanner, so hopefully the colors look true. It's a bright green and a medium dark maroon.
So - if anyone would like to read the documentation or would like the Excel pattern for this, let me know. It's not hard, if you understand how 3/1 twill works - the stripe in the middle adds to the visual complexity, but not the weaving complexity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pel-Laurel 3/1 Twill band - sample in progress

In working on 3/1 twill, I developed a repeating Laurel leaf pattern. It's not a documented pattern, but there are several 'leaf' patterns done in 3/1 twill, so the 'look' is right. Repeating trim is NOT super common - but the Hallstatt patterns do repeat, so it was done in the past, as well.

When I attended Laurel Prize Tourney, I saw an example of a Pelican/Laurel band she had made, doing doubleface, double-turn TW. It was a very interesting concept - but the 'leaf' looked very triangular, and there were some other aesthetic things I didn't like (poor contrast w/green and red, etc.) - but it was a cool idea.

So - I currently have a few friends who are fibery-types who are both (or will be shortly!) - so the idea came to combine the 3/1 twill design I had already developed to incorporate green leaves, a red stripe, and black and white 'ermine'. I didn't want the black to overwhelm the white, so it presented a bit of a challenge.

I designed the white stripes to utilize the 'missed hole' technique. on 4 of the cards (2 on each side) I put 2 green, and only one white, instead of 2. This meant that as the weave progressed, the 'missed' sections would show the weft thread. By using a black weft, the 'spots' show up as small sections, and the spacing was offset to prevent 'stripes'. As this was a sample piece, I didn't add a selvedge - I would probably add solid black, or a black and white mix, to tie-in with the ermine section.

I think the color combination works well - the red and green contrast enough w/o being 'Christmas' - and I think the spots show up well enough. Other options would be to thread the cards with a black thread, and thicker thread (which would make a wider band) could also help call attention to it.

Comments welcome!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Snug's Mask from Midsummer Night's Dream - or the Nemean Lion, take your pick.

Our SCA Baronial fall event is called Legacy of Lions. It it celebrating our 35th anniversary, and the number of extraordinary people in the Barony over the years. The Arts and Sciences theme is 'Lions', and all entries should reference lions in some form.

Documentation isn't required, although it is helpful. There are 3 prizes given for A&S entries, based on the favorite entries of the B&B, the Lady of the Lion and Lady of Lyonesse. The Baroness and both Ladies are Laurels, so - documentation=good.

After many false starts on Lion projects - a scabbard, a pouch, and something else, which all ended in failure (including a huge gash in my thumb from the scabbard project) - I was giving up on a suitable project. I was still working on the weaving (now done, pictures to follow soon!) - and I was in a funk.

While finishing the weaving, I decided to put in a fun movie to help with the time. I chose the Kevin Kline version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - light comedy, lots of fun, but not much thinking, since I am very familiar with the play.

And what do I see at the end of the play? A lion. Not a fierce lion (t'were pity on his life to scare the ladies, after all!) - but proof that Shakespearean theatre used animal masks in certain situations.  And since I HAPPEN to have a BFA in theatre, I have LOTS of references to masks, Shakespeare, etc.

So - I pick up my copy of Shakespeare, and check the publishing date on Midsummer. 1594-1595. Perfect. Late, but definitely before the cutoff, and not in the grey period. I read the part. Definitely mentions a mask - one where the actor's head could be seen if necessary. So far, so good.

I have a book on Mask Making that included making leather masks for Commedia dell'arte, said to be the same techniques used during SCA period. OR - make that I -HAD- that book, but as I was looking for it, we remembered that it had been lent out to a friend, whose house had burned down, and we'd never gotten a replacement for the book. ARGH! This is less than a week until the event - no time for ILL. So - it has references, but the documentation will be rather sparce, on that count.

But - I have my Theatre history book, my Shakespeare book, and a few other articles on mask making. So I did a basic write-up, based on previous mask making experiences.

Then - it was time to find the leather. Now - I have a garage full of leather (like - enough to start a small shop ... don't ask, it's a painful subject!) - but could I find good mask leather? No, of course not. It has to be vegetable tanned, so it will mold, and can't be too thick, or it'll be too heavy and hard to shape. So I found some that should be perfect, right? And then look at it, and realize that while it IS vegetable tanned leather - it has a finish applied that makes it almost plastic! WTF?!? Why would someone take perfectly good leather and DO that to it. But - it's a large piece, and if it doesn't work, I still have time.

So - with Terry's help, I get the basic Lion shape cut out, and we do the wet-forming. The leather doesn't squish the same (the top-coat stops it) - but it does hold shapes, and some molding was possible.

The plan was to do all the shaping, let it dry, and then paint/dye it afterwards to make it look like a lion. However - the way the finish is on the leather, dye and paint would be an 'iffy' proposition - and painting is NOT my strong point. So - I think the natural finish on the leather is fine for this project, and looks pretty good. If I did anything, it would be to line the eyes and nose in black, to play up the 'lion' shaping.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Starting documentation on the salt experiment

Here's my initial write-up on the salt experiments. I haven't added in all citations yet - but the basics are there. I have more sources, as well, but these 3 are the 'Biggies'.


This small experiment shows how the formation of ‘Fleur de Sel’ (Flower of Salt) differs from ‘Sel Gris’ (grey salt), as well as the general method for harvesting salt.

From the mid-13th century onwards, French ‘Bay Salt’ gained popularity throughout Europe as a cheap, ready source of salt. The English and the Dutch extracted salt from brines and peat, using boiling and burning methods. These were expensive and required capital investments in pans and fuel. The French relied on solar evaporation and the wind to extract salt from sea-water, which was virtually free. (Bridbury)

The sea-water was drawn into long ‘pans’ dug into the ground. These pans were usually lined with clay, sand, cement, or tile, and the water was moved through them, getting progressively more and more saturated with salt as the water portion evaporated. Finally, the concentrated brine was moved to very shallow pans, where the salt began to crystallize.

The first salts to crystallize form on the surface of the water. This is the ‘Fleur de Sel’ – the finest salt, and looks like flakes on the surface of the water. The salt-worker would wait for these to form, and then carefully scrape them off the water, being careful not to touch the sides or bottom, which would disturb sediment and impart impurities to the salt. This task was very laborious, and required skill and practice. Traditionally wooden rakes and scoops were used because of the corrosive nature of the brine. (Bitterman, Bridbury, Kurlansky)

The rest of the brine would also start crystallizing as the water evaporated, forming a crust along the sides and bottom of the pan. This salt is the ‘Sel Gris’, which tended to pick up sediment from the bottom and would form larger crystals. This salt was scraped from the bottom of the pan, trying not to pick up too much sediment.

Because of the hazards of modern sea-water near Texas (the Gulf of Mexico has some serious issues currently), I have chosen to create an artificial salt brine for the experiment. I used Morton’s Rock Salt from a home improvement store. This salt comes in large crystal chunks, and is 99% pure Sodium Chloride (NaCl, or common table salt). I chose to use this over commercial table salt, because of the larger crystals, and because it hasn’t had ‘anti-caking’ agents added, unlike the Table Salt, Kosher Salt, and Sea Salt from the grocery store. The salt was added to unfiltered tap water. This water is considered very hard, and most people use filters to make drinking water. This water is from the Edwards Aquifer, and has only been treated to make it potable.

To make the brine, I added about 1 cup of salt to approximately 3 gallons of hot tap water. I let it sit until just about all of the salt dissolved, leaving crystals in the bottom. I then poured the salt into terra-cotta pans for drying. While the earthen salt-pans were often lined in clay or sand, some were covered in concrete or tile, and I needed a portable pan for this experiment. These pans were left outside to evaporate.

The first crystals appear on the top of the water, because the brine is at maximum saturation. These will form within hours, especially with a slight breeze over the water, which helps with evaporation. As the water is removed a line of salt ‘snow’ forms around the water-line, as the salt is deposited along the sides. If all the water evaporates, the remaining salt forms crystals along the sides and bottoms of the pan.

If the crystals on top are harvested right away, these will be ‘Fleur de Sel.’ The remaining crystals are ‘Sel Gris’ – although because there is no sediment in the pans from dirt and other contaminants, it will appear very similar to the ‘Fleur de Sel’ in this case. Even though the pans appear dry, there is still moisture in the salt, which would be stacked and allowed to dry before being sent to market.

This salt has a different taste from modern table salt, sea salt, and kosher salt. The minerals in the water impart different characteristics to the salt, which are removed in the modern salt-making process.  Different conditions also produce different types of crystals – more wind, and different evaporative conditions in the pan can create very different effects.

In the past, different salts were prized for their different properties – small crystals, different tastes, different colors, etc. The modern salt industry has removed these impurities through industrialization, with the goal of making 99.99% pure NaCl. This is fine for industrial uses, but many of the unique features of ‘local’ salt have been lost, except in ‘Artisan Salt’ available in upscale markets.


Bitterman, Mark. Salted : a manifesto on the world's most essential mineral, with recipes. Berkeley Calif: Ten Speed Press, 2010.

Bridbury, A. England and the salt trade in the later Middle Ages. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1973.

Kurlansky, Mark. Salt : a world history. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Notes about the Experiment:

The 2 large pans were purchased at the same time, from the same place, with the same tags/manufacturer. They differ in their porosity, since the one pan kept all the salt on the inside, while the other drew salt out as the water soaked through the pan, forming the ‘frosting’ on both sides of the pan. I have no other explanation for this phenomenon, since both pans were left outside at the same time, in the same conditions, using the same brine for the experiment.

Large Pan 1:
Large crystals, formed from solar evaporation.

Large Pan 2:
Small crystals, formed from solar evaporation.

Small Pan:
Morton’s Rock Salt, used for the experiments

Glass Jar with Brine:
Following a description from Cato on how to produce a ‘fine salt’, I made a linen bag, suspended the rock salt in it, and left it in the water to form brine. The salt has completely dissolved in the water at this point, and the water is pretty saturated.

Tasting Shells: Feel free to sample the salt and taste the difference!

Shell 1:
From Pan 1, the large crystals

Shell 2:
From Pan 2, the small crystals

Shell 3:
Morton’s Rock Salt, ground to small crystals in a mortar

Shell 4:
HEB non-iodized table salt

Shell 5:
Morton’s Sea Salt

Shell 6:
Morton’s Kosher Salt 

Feel free to comment or make suggestions. This is NOT the final version, but I'll be putting it out tomorrow with my salt-pans for a competition.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weaving part 1 - finished!

I finished the first part of the weaving, which should make 4 good sized ribbons for the Legacy of Lions medallions. I ran into a few more snags where the pattern changed unexpectedly (talking to people and taking it to A&S day were the culprits) - but it's not noticeable unless you know what to look for.

Next up is to get out the silk and warp up the next batch. I think I'm going to increase the length just a bit - the loom can do more, and that way the next 4 will be just a bit longer. I have plenty of silk, I just need to unravel it. Getting everything ready and warped is the goal for Tuesday, which is my last day off this week. Luckily - I'll have 2 mornings free this week, while the kids are gone to do more weaving, which should help.

Once I have this last batch warped and underway - time to get back to planning/doing other projects.