Mysteries of History

I find it interesting that the most popular post on my blog has been Wheelbarrows of Money. It has had just over 9,000 views since it was created. My next-most-popular post, Bathing in the Middle Ages, has nearly 3,500 views, so you can see how overwhelmingly popular Wheelbarrows of Money has been.

Most of my top-ranking posts are history-related, but oddly enough, 1920’s Germany isn’t my historical forte; medieval history is. And the entire reason why that post came into being was because I had mentioned the oft-repeated assertion that people used wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread during the Weimar Republic, and my husband challenged that; he asked me to prove that anyone had ever really used wheelbarrows of cash to buy anything.

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Apparently a lot of other people have also wondered if that’s true, but a summary of search results also points to people being interested in understanding why and how inflation happens and what it’s like when it does happen.

So, I’m opening up the floor to any other historical question people may have–medieval, inflationary, or otherwise. And I’ll even go so far as to extend the invitation to questions–historical or theological–about Christianity/Christians or Judaism/Jews.

Gulf Wars 24

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went on our annual trip (annual when we can afford it, that is; we’ve missed the past two) to Gulf Wars, a week-long SCA event just south of Hattiesburg, MS.

I had every intention of taking lots of pictures and some video, but between taking classes, teaching classes, and getting a cold partway through the week, I took almost none. (We were not with it this War. It’s like, after missing two years in a row, we forgot what we were doing. We waited until the absolute last minute to pack and did a half-assed job with stuff we normally take more seriously.)

But, we did manage to get a few pictures (and I’ll add in some old ones, so you can see a little more).

HomeSo, to start with, here is our home away from home. We’re still in the process of setting up, so there’s no furniture in it yet, but when it’s fully set up, we have a full-size bed (with a real mattress), a clothes rack, pantry shelves, and a dressing table and stool. Oh, and we also use a propane heater when it’s cold (we only used it the first night to burn off the damp; the rest of the week it was plenty warm–even hot, during the day).

While setting up, Stuart managed to pull an entire water spigot out of the ground. Hitting water lines/sprinkler systems with tent stakes, backing over spigots, etc. is so common in the SCA, we jokingly refer to these incidents as finding a “miraculous spring.” Stuart might have a first for ripping up a spigot with his bare hands, though.

Holy Well

The Miraculous Well of the Blessed St. Stuart

 

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The Miraculous Well of St. Martin. Note the sacred pick-ax (painted gold) and the reliquary box (which contains broken pieces of PVC pipe).

Some folks down the road built a shrine to their miraculous spring (although it wasn’t out this year; I guess they couldn’t make it to War).

While almost everyone camps in tents, a few enterprising people have built themselves houses (this is next on mine and Stuart’s to-do list).

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(Not being the carpenter/constructor types, we plan on buying a pre-built storage building and altering it to appear medieval.)

Some encampments have fancy gates.

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There are even a couple of large, public buildings on site:

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The Viking longhouse. (It’s very neat on the inside. In the evenings, they build a fire in the central hearth and there are seat/bed platforms around the walls where you can hang out and chat with people.)

The Green Dragon. This is a semi-functioning pub (alcoholic beverages aren’t sold). They have different performances every evening–sometimes two per evening. (Inside is also very neat. They have a tiny musician’s loft above the bar. The doors have medieval counterweights to make them self-closing, and when it’s cold, they’ll light a fire in the big cauldron in the middle of the floor.)

We eventually want to put a gate up on our land, but our house will probably end up happening first. (Again, no carpentry skills–not to mention, it’s an 8+ hour drive for everyone in our camp, which means we can’t just run down there for a work weekend and throw up a gate.)

But, that being said, we did have one work weekend year-before-last, when we built ourselves a fire pit.

Child Labor

Hmm… maybe this is why we can’t get anything built in a timely fashion. …We need more child labor!

 

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The finished fire pit.

So, now that you’ve seen how we live, let me show you what we do.

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But, it’s not all fighting. There are massive amounts of classes, Arts & Sciences displays and workshops, dancing, parties, fencing, hound coursing, and equestrian (to name a few things).

There is also archery and thrown weapons. Stuart bought a new longbow at War and went to the archery range to try it out.

ArcheryWe also spent some time at the falconry tent

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I had assumed that people hunted with birds for food–that the birds would get you a rabbit for your dinner. But, in reality, you end up feeding them pretty much everything they catch, and then some (they don’t hunt with them at certain times of the year). The owners actually raise pigeons to feed the birds when they’re not hunting with them (pigeons and doves were commonly raised in the middle ages, too, and no doubt some of them went to the birds). If they catch anything big, like a rabbit, then that gets put into the freezer to be fed to them a piece at a time.

The purpose of hawking in the middle ages, then, wasn’t to use birds to catch yourself dinner, but just to watch them hunt and kill something. Part of the reason why only nobles could have birds (besides sumptuary laws, which strictly relegated who could own what kind of bird) was that they were expensive to maintain. Not only did you have to feed it when it couldn’t feed itself, but you pretty well had to have a full-time falconer to take care of your birds.

And these birds are not really tame–not like your cat or dog or even a domesticated bird. One of the falconers explained that they kept bells on the birds’ feet so that they could hear them if they flew away. She said that at a previous War, one man let his loose and the bird never came back. And she said she had one to get away from her when she was hunting with it. It got a squirrel and then decided that it needed to hide and eat, so he flew off into the brush. She was only able to track him down by listening to his bells when he moved his feet.

The only reason why any of them stay with their human handlers is because they know they can always get a free and easy meal. I seem to recall, from a conversation I had with one of the falconers several years ago, that they were only allowed to keep some of the endangered ones for a few years, while they were juveniles (because juveniles have a high rate of mortality in the wild). After that, they had to release them. And, in fact, barring age or injury, any of these birds could go back to the wild at any time–unlike truly domesticated animals.

I asked the falconer one year how they managed to gentle the birds, and he said that after wild-catching one, he would sit in a recliner in his basement, take the bird out of its box, and hold it until it quit beating its wings (while watching TV–because it could take a while). When it had tired itself out and calmed down, then he would feed it. After that, he would feed it and handle it regularly and it would quickly come to associate people with food, so it wouldn’t fight when it was taken out of its box. When it was pretty well-behaved, they could leave it out on a perch in the house, where it would spend additional time around other people and around the other birds. (The smaller birds are naturally afraid of the larger ones, but after a while, when they figure out that the large ones can’t get to them, they calm down around them.)

Unfortunately, after we got home from War, we found out that the people who owned all the birds, save the male hawk, had a car fire on their way back home. They managed to get out of the car in time, but all of their birds died. A couple of different groups of people are working on raising money to help them replace their birds. (They are licensed to wild-catch some species, but some of the ones pictured are not native to their part of the U.S. and have to be bought or traded for.)

It’s a Blog Post about Nothing!

So, how did my weekend go?

I did no work on my fanfic and no work on the hubby’s Viking outfit. I did, however, (at the last minute and at great expense) put together my group’s newsletter (a needful thing, since it was due Monday) and I built the most awesome medieval house for my Sims ever!

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Now, you might legitimately ask, “How does building the most awesome medieval house ever further this month’s goals of making a Viking outfit and completing your fanfic?”

It doesn’t.

Of course, I could make the argument that I’ve been really busy lately and wasn’t recovered from last weekend’s demonstration and campout, and therefore I needed to sit on my ass and do mind-numbing tasks like scour The Sims Resource for blacksmith tools (found an anvil and hammer, but no forge) and laundry room supplies (found the mother-load!).

But that would sound like an excuse.

I could also make the argument that the Sims can actually be a great tool for writers because it allows you to design houses and other buildings that only exist in your head. Houses contained solely in the head are often vague and incorrectly proportioned; putting them “on paper” (if you will) allows you to correct design flaws and have an actual model to work from; your descriptions will be richer.

But the house I built doesn’t exist in any of my novels.

So, yeah, I totally goofed-off this weekend. And I don’t feel the least bit remorseful; it felt good to do a lot of nothing after doing a lot of everything; I wish I could have one more day of doing nothing. It was the ultimate in introvert recharging. Hopefully it will now give me the boost I need to knuckle down on my sewing and writing projects.

Speaking of which, I wasn’t totally unproductive on the writing front since my last post; Friday, during my lunch hour, I made a new…

Wait for it…

…Bloodsuckers episode!

Are you ready for the catch? (You know there’s a catch; if I had an episode ready, I would have posted it instead of this.)

It’s out of sequence. As is typical with me, I’ve written a scene in advance. I still have to go back and reread the series (because I’ve forgotten parts of it) and pick it back up with Scott meeting Josie’s parents for the first time at Hanukkah. The main reason why I stopped working on the story when I did was because I have no idea how to roll with that scene. It’s obviously going to be ugly, but it needs to be so ugly it’s good. I have high expectations, since I feel that the Halloween episode was the best one of the entire series; Scott meeting Josie’s parents should be no less great.

In other words, I’m paralyzed by my own sense of perfection.

But, if I can ever get over that hump, I’ll be good for a little while, because I’ve actually got several future episodes lined up and waiting in the wings.

With my fanfic hopefully off the table by the end of the month, we shall have to see if we can’t make December’s goal resurrecting The Bloodsuckers.

(You know, for a hare-brained idea born out of a concept for a sitcom based on the crazy stuff that happened in the law office where I worked, I’m really surprised at how well-received the series has been. People that I would have never expected to like something like that—like my mother and vampire-hating friend, Carla—frequently badger me for new episodes. People I barely know will randomly say, “I read your Bloodsuckers; when are you going to write more?”

People just like the idea of a real, blood-sucking lawyer. Or maybe they like the idea of a good guy who has been down on his luck, but is trying to make the best of life. Scott is a vampire, but he’s also an everyman.)

Oh, and because I know you’re reading this, Michelle, I did re-read Imminent Danger this weekend (between anvil and laundry basket downloads). All I can say is the next book better involve a trip to Rakor and I think a baby at some point would not be remiss, either. What better way to make Eris and Varrin even more hunted than if she was carrying the ultimate in royal bloodline corruption? Just sayin’.

(And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should check out Michelle Proulx’s book, Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight Into It. It’s a fun, romantic science-fiction romp. Michelle’s really great at imagining (and describing) aliens and I’m envious of her ability to create a believable anti-hero.)

My PINK Cotehardie

I keep fighting to establish a routine in my life–like blogging once a week–but I keep getting distracted. Before, we lived far from our friends and family, and a good 30 minutes’ drive from the nearest city; it was easy to sit down and write a book or blog because there wasn’t much else to do. (That, and I had down time at work–something I never have now.) Now, we’re near almost all of our friends and my family, and everyone wants to visit with us, and when we’re not being social, we’re usually eating out or going to a movie (how novel!). And we’re also going to events again–now that we have money and live in a central location–and meetings and fighter practices.

At some point–surely–the new will wear off of us (and off the city) and we’ll go back to staying home most of the time. Then, maybe, I can blog again.

To catch up a little, I’ve been doing some serious sewing lately. I have gone to handsewing all of my clothing (with the exception of a quickie dress I’m making right now; I’m cheating and using knit velvet). One benefit to having high speed internet is that I have access to all sorts of new documentaries on Nextflix, Hulu, and YouTube; I love to watch (or more like listen) to documentaries while I work. It makes the project seem to go by faster, plus I learn stuff as I go. (The drawback to having high speed internet is CandyCrush.)DSCN0183

I made this pink dress like the yellow one I did last year. Here it is, inside out, on my dummy, with the lining partially attached. Unlike the yellow dress, which has a muslin lining, this one actually has a linen lining. And I don’t like it as well. Sure, it’s period-correct–unlike the muslin–but linen stretches. And when you sweat in it–as is wont to happen in Tennessee in the summer when it’s 90+ degrees outside–it stretches even more. Which means you end up with a lot less support in the bust at the end of the day and you start looking like you’ve melted–literally and figuratively.

I think I’m going to go back to muslin linings for all my dresses except the ones I enter into competitions. At the very least, no more linen linings in summer dresses; I think they’d do alright in the winter, but not the summer.

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Here is where the lining is sewn to the armhole. Check out that shoulder seam; it looks machine sewn. It’s not!

I really like half-lining or bodice-lining my dresses. It gives me the look of a lined dress without a lot of extra fabric. I learned to appreciate the beauty of a lined garment when I was at The Original Re-Enactor’s Market in England and everyone was wearing lined garments. However, it gets very hot in Tennessee. The first time I wore this dress, it was in the upper 90’s, with a heat index (thanks to the humidity that we have in abundance) of 104 (that’s 40 degrees Celsius for the non-Americans). When I lived in Ireland, by contrast, I wore a light jacket to the pub on the Fourth of July, made my mother mail me my flannel footie pajamas (which I wore all summer), and the hottest it got the entire time I was there was about 89 degrees (32 C). That lasted one week, then it went back to being comfortable pants and long-sleeve shirt weather.

And that was in Kilkenny, which is one of the driest, warmest parts of Ireland. I have a picture of me, in the middle of August–at the same time I would be melting in 95-degree, 80% humidity weather in Tennessee–wearing a zipped up coat and sitting huddled on a rock in the Burren on the west coast.

So, unfortunately, I can’t get away with wearing all the layers and linings that people in Europe can wear. Hence why I half-line.

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And here’s a picture of the sleeve. I learned my lesson from the yellow dress and flat-felled all my seams before I put in the lining.

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Here is is completed and right-side out. The vertical slits are called “fitchets.” This is the first time I’ve put any in a dress, and I have to say I like them. While they don’t have to be a contrasting color, I like the extra splash of color.

The yellow around the front of the dress and neckline is a tiny piece of braid made from embroidery floss. Despite my best ironing efforts, the lining wanted to roll up and show around the edges. On my yellow dress, this isn’t a problem because the lining is beige muslin and the linen is a pale yellow; you don’t notice it. But on this dress, the lining is a natural wheat color and it does show around the pink. So, in an effort to hide it, I braided the thread and sewed it onto the edges. This is meant to simulate the card-woven edges that were found on some woollen garments. (The purpose is to make sure the wool doesn’t fray on the edges and become fuzzy and ugly.)

While it was meant to be corrective, I ended up liking the bit of yellow trim around the edges. It gave it a very finished look.100_6710This purse was something of a first for me, too. I’ve made exactly one purse for myself and that was 11 years ago, when I first got into the SCA (and I almost never used it). Fitchets, however, make it a lot easier to wear a purse. Just tie on a belt under your dress, attach the purse and pull it through the hole. (If you expect cut-purses, though, you can keep it on the inside.)

The design on the purse is block-printed and I’ve never done that before (block-printing is period, although it seems to have been largely imported into Europe from the middle east and India–where it’s still done by hand today). I bought a block at the flea market in Nashville and this was the first time I tried to use it. It was harder to use than I expected; it wasn’t like using a sponge or rubber stamp. I guess the paint didn’t lay on the wood as well as it does on rubber, so it was hard to get the print to transfer without overloading it with paint and creating a blob instead. There was definitely a sweet spot that you had to hit with how much paint  you put on it. I found that putting my fabric on top of another piece of fabric–creating a soft work surface–helped. I guess the springiness of sponge or rubber helps transfer the pattern, too; since wood lacks this, you have to make up for it. Still, I made a number of impressions before I had one I was satisfied with (I used the second-best print for the backside of the purse).

In period, it’s unlikely that your purse would have matched your dress that well. It likely would have been made from a really nice fabric or embroidered, and most women would probably have only had one. So it ended up being worn with all your outfits, whether it matched, coordinated, or clashed spectacularly. (Although I’m not sure if medieval people had a sense of “clashing;” some of the combinations of color and prints you see in paintings really makes you wonder.)

I kind of don’t like how matchy-matchy the purse is, and yet I couldn’t think of anything else to make it out of that wouldn’t clash, and I hated the idea of clashing even worse. But if I do fitchets again–and I’m planning to in my next dress–I will probably make a purse that doesn’t match.

Speaking of my next dress, here’s the material for it:

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This is a light-blue and white Celtic key pattern. This is actually the reverse side. The front side is kind of a synthetic-looking chenille, but the back is a very heavy, nobbly cotton that passes for wool unless you touch it. It will make me a very nice, heavy winter dress (which I will like, since I get cold easily). I was just thinking that I might trim the neckline in white fur.

And, before I go, here is me wearing the pink dress. (Our camera lens was very dirty, so that’s why there’s a blur, even after I ran the pictures through Photoshop.)

Devious Altered

My yellow underdress is synthetic and barely stretches at all, so I managed to keep a decent-looking bustline all day at this particular event. But the first time I wore it, when it was so bloody hot, I wore a cotton gauze chemise under it that provided very little support on its own, and coupled with the stretchy linen, gave me what I termed the “melted birthday cake” look.

Good Picture Altered

In the 14th century, women often posed with their hands on their abdomens and their elbows pointed out. I learned, while wearing a sideless surcoat, that the reason for doing this is to allow the contours of the waist to be seen; if your arms are hanging down at your sides, it hides your curves and can make you look fatter. One of the reasons why I like the fitchets is that it gives you a place to put your hands, while creating that medieval silhouette. (Other people say that they’re nice in the winter for keeping your hands warm. I’ll find out in my next dress–especially if I trim the holes with fur. Mwahaha!)

The One True Century

Here is another picture of me with my new ruffled veil–this time with the proper dress and hairstyle. I’m absolutely loving it!

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And a quick alternate with the flat ram’s horns.

 

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Medieval Combat Society Ruffleception! This German figure is wearing two veils–one on top of the other–similar to mine, then she has a wimple that has a matching ruffle around the bottom edge. I kind of like it.

Head of a Noble Woman(You know, I just realized I have my medieval face on: hooded eyes, pasted-on smile.)

 

Anti-Procrastination Day Success!

So, Wednesday, I mentioned that I was going to try to get in the habit of accomplishing certain things (writing, sewing, long-overdue projects) in the evenings so I don’t bounce randomly from project to project, taking forever to get something finished. I borrowed from Ma Ingall’s list of daily chores to create my own project-chore list. Wednesday night was anti-procrastination night, and I chose to tackle an illumination that I started to make for myself, oh, sometime back around the first of the year.

My Scroll

Conversion Scroll

Hey, I just realized I need to sign the thing!

The entire picture (including margins, which aren’t shown in this image) is slightly larger than 11×17″. The main image is from a mahzor (prayerbook–most likely a Passover siddur) known as the Tripartite Mahzor, created somewhere in modern Germany around 1322 (and currently housed in the British Library).

The paint is basic watercolor paint. (When I talk shop with other illuminators, they are all adamant that watercolors aren’t strong enough to do a medieval-style illumination and that only gouache will do. I tried some gouache once, but found it didn’t produce stronger colors than my watercolors and was actually a little harder to work with because it’s thicker. No one actually complains about my actual illuminations looking too weak; I guess I paint my water colors with a heavier hand–and less water–than most people.)

The pseudo-Hebrew font is called SeferAH (free-for-personal use, license-for-commerical use; it’s the font I’m using on the cover for The Flames of Prague).

The original illumination

Construction

The project wasn’t as difficult as you might think (although it was time-consuming; I estimate I spent 35-40 hours on it). I actually can’t draw worth a flip–hence why I copied an extant piece.

I used Photoshop to create a virtual page the size of my actual paper. I resized the original illumination, took off its borders, and centered it, then added the text below it in the Sefer AH font. I took the file to Kinko’s and had them print me a copy on 11×17″ in color.

When I got it home, I centered it on my paper (which is 12×18″, I think) and taped it down. Then I had to use a ruler to draw the edges of my borders. That was actually the trickiest bit because, as you can see, the original picture wasn’t square (my picture is also slightly off center; the top portion leans a bit to the right).

Next, I put it on my light box and traced everything. The borders were actually the only thing I free-handed (and are based on borders seen in other illuminations).

Once everything was drawn out in pencil, I covered the bottom half of the paper–where the calligraphy would be–to keep from spotting it with paint, and I painted the main image. When it was done, I went back to my light box and actually traced all of the letters with a calligraphy pen (because my penmanship isn’t worth a flip, either). Finally I painted the borders and the box with the lion in it (that was actually a last-minute addition that I did to cover up some text that didn’t get used for reasons I won’t mention).

One trick I learned early-on when it comes to painting like this is, when you’re done, go back over your original pencil lines with a black, fine-tipped, felt pen. That really makes the figures pop out and it hides a multitude of sins. (Notice that all of the original figures and vines have a black outline around them.)

In short, if you can trace something and color inside the lines, you too can make a medieval-style illumination.

Thursday Night

While my Wednesday night went really well (although I worked on my illumination for more than an hour–more like five, actually), I vegged out a bit too much last night, so I only got about 30 minutes of work done on The Bloodsuckers–not enough to finish the episode for today. I’ll see what I can get done Sunday.

Apologies 

Speaking of things Jewish, it’s that time of year again: Yom Kippur begins tonight with the Kol Nidre service. It is time for us to beat our breasts (literally) and take a moment to look in the mirror and see what we too often ignore: that we are not the people we want to be, could be, and should be–that we lie and cheat and say unkind things and hurt others and fail to do good things and fail to follow God’s commandments. Beginning tonight, we take a hard look at ourselves, acknowledge our faults, and ask God to forgive us for them (it’s kind of like a Catholic confession and penance that lasts for 25 hours).

But, before we can get God’s forgiveness, we have to get forgiveness from others. In that vein, I want to offer my apologies to anyone I may have offended over the past year, to anyone whose feelings I hurt, for any promises I may have broken or disappointment I may have caused. I do things with the best of intentions, but I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease; what sounds fine in my head sometimes comes out horribly offensive and insulting. And sometimes I jump to conclusions or base an opinion on misinformation. And sometimes I promise more than I’m capable of delivering. So, for all those things, I apologize, and, as always, I will endeavor to improve myself over the upcoming year.

For those of you who observe Yom Kippur, have a meaningingful fast; for everyone else, have a good weekend.