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Rebekah of Samandar's A&S Ramblings

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M. and I are sloooowly resurfacing, after quite a few months of being crazed at work and generally worn out. I think we both figured we had to get adjusted to our new jobs, but I know I didn’t think it would take quite this long! But slowly, surely, we’re normalizing.

This weekend, we’re both going up for a melee event in Maryland – M. will get to hit new & different people with a stick, and I will probably go and have lunch with my folks during the day (it is Mothers’ Day weekend, after all) but go back to the site for court. Last week I taught a class on choux paste at Thursday’s A&S meeting; in case anyone’s interested, here’s the handout:Collapse ) I think the class was a lot of fun; choux pastry comes together pretty quickly and is easy to explain, so we were done with the first discussion and the gougères within an hour and a half. Just for fun, we decided to make profiteroles (Kaleeb had the ingredients, including the ice cream, and very nicely let me make a mess of her kitchen a second time in the same evening….) The profiteroles didn’t turn out quite as nicely as the gougères, but they seemed more popular – probably because of the ice cream. :-)

A little ways back, M. taught a cheese class, which covered some pretty interesting material. (I didn’t make it to the class itself, but I spent a lot of time looking over her shoulder while she wrote the handout… Did you know a lot of historical cheeses seem to have used eggs to "curdle" the milk, kind of like a custard that’s overcooked? Me neither. But there were several recipes that seemed to point that way.) Maybe I’ll ask if I can post her handout, in fact.

Meanwhile, not surprisingly, I’m still working on the gold 4-panel gown; I’ve gotten it patterned, working on basting together the panels and the bodice lining, and really hoping that it’ll fit as well as the pattern did. (The sleeves were a real pain, and so was the fitting itself – for once I find myself wishing I were flatter-chested. I don’t have much experience with draping, and getting the front pieces to fit right without darts was tricky. They still probably won’t lie quite how I want, but hopefully it’ll be close enough.) I’m still dithering about how I want to close it: sew in tiny little eyelets and lace/sew it, or go for buttons, or….? Eyelets are probably winning, but I’m trying not to think about it much because they’re going to be a pain.

And today’s good news: Kim (a friend who lived nearby) butchered her rabbits recently, and she’s giving me one of the pelts to tan!! It’s a slightly imperfect pelt, but that’s good, since it’ll be my first time tanning anything and I’m sure it will be even more "imperfect" when I’m done with it. Frankly, I think I’d be pretty intimidated if I started with a spotlessly white hide.

I’m probably going to tan it using a relatively modern chemical recipe, instead of going for a period method – although I think I’ll look around a bit first and see. But this is something where I’m inclined to start easy, and then go for more complex once I get a feel for it. I’m really looking forward to it, though; even though M. thinks I’m crazy, I think it’ll be a lot of fun.
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OK, I looked at Tir-y-Don's website and found that some enterprising soul had already put up lots of wonderful photos of displays at St. Luke's. Here are some of the things I was talking about earlier, for anyone who wasn't there:

Addie's Viking dress & necklace (don't know if I mentioned it before or not, but it was neat...so was getting to see parts of the process as she has researched & put it together)

Two pictures of the display on early Spanish chocolate, by Beatriz de la Oya

A really nifty project on needle cases by Lady Blitha of Wolfhou


Julie's handspun/woven/etc fibers

The printing press!

Viking bed, with attendant child now awake

And a couple pictures of my stuff:

Overview of part of the rosemary display, plus a close-up on a couple items

Lead sheets before and after the pigment-making reaction

Copper (also) before and after

Full gallery of these photos is here.

Full disclosure: these are not my pictures. I'm linking to them because they are publicly posted, but I do not know who they belong to. Etc. Etc.

ETA: by sheer dumb luck, I stumbled across reasdream's pictures from yesterday...and they include a nice picture that shows just about all of my rosemary display (at least, before I actually brought in the fish). Very cool!
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I am so glad I copied that before hitting "post;" otherwise, LJ would have just eaten a really long entry. Ack. Anyhow:

'Take This Herb:' the 2nd challengeCollapse )

So, the bare bones of the day: good event, good food, good company, good discussions. Fun, and I hope the event happens again next year.

In a brief offtopic foray into real life: haven't been on LJ much at all since I started the new job, since M. and I have both been pretty busy. Things are gradually getting into a routine, though (whew! - especially for Megan!) so maybe I will be a good little Internet addict and post more often. Plus maybe actually reading more than once a month, so I have half a chance of knowing what's going on with everyone else out there. Because that's the point, right?
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St. Luke's Artisans' Fair, of course, was yesterday. Long story short, it was a lot of fun. Got to seem some really incredible displays, chat with some folks I haven't seen in awhile, and also got some really good feedback on the stuff I had on display. Plus, as an added bonus, some friends got awards at court...that's always a warm-and-fuzzy sort of thing to see.

Displays of particular note, although this is certainly not all of them: the printing press. (Wow.) The cheese display - I pointed Megan at that one, too, because she's teaching an A&S class on cheese pretty soon. The other "Take This Herb" entry, which was on elder. The unexpectedly fiery Spanish chocolate. (Owww!) Lebkuchen (very cool). And a child-scale Viking bed, complete with a little kid conked out asleep. Adds that extra touch of authenticity, you know.... :-)

'The Disgusting Challenge:' Documentation & DiscussionCollapse )

I want to post a couple pictures that went with the documentation, but the Photobucket account is set up through Megan and I forgot the password. Oops. So I'll have to come back and do that later.... sheesh. I'm also going to look around and see if there are good pictures of the event up there; someday when we have a good digital camera I am going to have to take pictures at events too. It's always nice to be able to look back at them afterwards.

Going to continue in another entry with the documentation for the other project, since this is getting long and LJ may cut me off.
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Haven't posted in a loooong time. This is due to (among other things) new jobs: M's and mine. Good things in both cases, but it means life is busy.

However, still working on stuff for St. Luke's!

Tonight I am working on the rosemary/thyme syrup. It's from the Good Housewife's Jewel (insert creative spelling but it's in the other room and I am too lazy to go check). It doesn't include measurements for water, sugar, or herbs; says to add enough sugar to make it sweet and enough herbs to make it taste strongly of them. It does, however, say to boil down to half its original volume (although in different words).

My redaction so far:

Take a quart of water and a cup of sugar. Add a generous handful each of fresh rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Turn down to medium-low. Cook until reduced to half its original volume (stir now and then), let cool, then strain. Don't know how long it will take to cook, since it's still cooking.

Not sure how I will like the proportions, if I will want to muck with it or leave it as is. The smell is very herbal, and not in a good way - but it's supposed to be medicinal, after all. (I like both rosemary and thyme, but rosemary + thyme + sweet just isn't pleasant.)

Also grinding down more and more rosemary-wood ash; I now have a bit more than a half cupful. And it took a LOT of rosemary to get there! I'm done, though. That's quite enough to play with, display, and have extra left in case I drop the first display on the floor and have to sweep it up....

Off to stir my syrup!
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I was so worried that I had ordered copper that would be flimsy or too thin. It turns out I was worried about the wrong thing entirely. Copper arrived yesterday, and as soon as I picked up the package I knew I was OK – it was heavy. Sure enough, my lovely 12x12 square of copper is not at all flimsy. I will have to figure out the best way to cut it. Megan points out that we have tin snips, but I’m not sure if they will work. Fingers are crossed.

The other night I went out to try and burn down the rest of the rosemary; I got about ¼ to 1/3 of what was remaining burnt but the rest is still on the back porch. I couldn’t feed the fire fast enough to keep it from smoldering down into incredibly smoky embers (that stuff burns very fast) and eventually I got sick of the smoke. Not sure if I’ll burn the rest or not; first I have to grind up the ash and see how much I have.

Worked on the coif at Yellow Ribbon on Saturday. I finished it, but I had to pick it apart and I will have to reshape the front edge (“brim” isn’t exactly the right term). Again, I know it isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it was a good way to use up a bunch of scraps. Soon I want to dig up a larger piece of linen to make a nicer pattern without piecing everything together from smaller bits! (Although I’m sure that’s very authentic, it just doesn’t look as nice.) Plus, I have to muck with the shaping; this one isn’t quite right. But at least it will be another option for things-to-wear-on-my-head-at-events.

And I have to actually get my act together and make shoes, before I forget how. At the moment I’m wearing sandals to events because it’s summer, but soon it will cool down. And what good are nice stockings if you don’t have any shoes to wear with them?
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Well, the lead is all set up and buried. The copper isn't, because I was scatterbrained - I thought I had several packets of thinnish copper foil, which I could layer together and use instead of thick foil/sheeting. Well, it turns out I had copper leaf instead. Quite different, infinitely more fragile, and not at all what I needed. Rats.

So I went online and ordered some copper. It was more expensive than the lead, which isn't too surprising. I ordered a 12 x 12 square of moderately heavy foil; I have a hard time conceptualizing just how thick it is so we will see when it arrives. (It's shipping by UPS ground, so I'm not holding my breath; it'll probably arrive sometime late this week or next week.)

In the meantime, I'm thinking I may buy a medium-sized metal wastecan to burn down the rest of the rosemary. Doing it a potful at a time would take forever, and I'm feeling impatient. I know I've said it before, but that stuff burns down to almost nothing….I've burned two pots-full and I have maybe a scant 2 tbsp. ground ashes to show for it. Even knowing that would be the case, it's startling to see.

Finishing up the coif I started while on the plane to Vegas. It's pretty basic, and not bad considering I'd never made one before. If I were to start it over, I might do a slightly different style - but this was mostly to use up scraps, give me something to sew on the plane, and get an idea of how much cloth I need to make a coif that fits me. It's plain white linen and undecorated; right now I just have to finish one edge, the ties, and some topstitching. I love sewing linen, by the way. It's so much nicer to the needle than silk is.

There's more, but I'm rambling and I need to get back to work….
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My lead got here!

I'd never actually handled lead before. It's really weird - incredibly soft and very nonmetallic. It feels almost closer to plastic or clay than "real" metal. I knew it was soft, but it's one thing to know it intellectually and quite another to be able to bend a sheet of metal with almost no effort.

Tonight I'm going to go by Home Depot and pick up some dowels, plumbers' putty, and heavy-duty vent tape to use in making the pigment boxes. Not as elegant as Theophilus' setup with carved airtight oak boxes, but much simpler and should work just as well. My focus here is on the chemical reactions and the pigments they create, not in the type of box the reaction takes place in (as long as my model is functionally the same as what was used in period).

There was also an interesting article in the latest TI (that's Tournaments Illuminated, for any non-SCAdians who may be reading this) about medieval varieties of rose. I thought it was really interesting; made me want to go out and buy some of the "right" kind of rosebushes. That was one of the weaknesses in my rose project: the roses I used were from the gardens of anyone I could talk into giving me roses, and I think they were primarily relatively modern varieties of damask roses or other similar species. While they were certainly close enough to give a decent approximation of all the rose preparations, using a more historically accurate strain of rose would have been even better.

Plus, the older varieties are supposed to have a wonderful smell. Kind of like heirloom tomatoes are supposed to taste better….
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Well, that's irritating. I started an update and then somehow deleted it.

Anyhow: my planned projects for the Artisans' Fair are starting to come together (in my mind if not in real life) and I'm optimistic. Still working on the herbal challenge, with a focus on rosemary, and the "disgusting" challenge (including making a couple pigments, a process that requires - among other things - urine). So far, both are pretty interesting.

I had a couple worries from a supply standpoint: rosemary and lead. We have a rosemary plant, but it never took off. Instead, the moonflower kind of choked it, so the rosemary is still small and unassuming - not ready to give up large parts of itself for herbal experimentation. Luckily, Julie emailed Campfire this weekend saying she had harvested her rosemary bushes and did anyone want some? I wanted some. I jumped at the chance, in fact, and now I am the proud owner of a large armful of rosemary. Much of it is outside so the wood can dry; the fresh greens are stripped and I have them in the freezer for now.

Lead, of course, is for use with the pigments. (Needed lead and copper, but I have copper foil.) I spent a little time bumming around online looking at scrap lead, but I had a hard time finding it for sale in quantities less than a ton. Eventually I wandered to this site, though, which seems to be just what I was looking for. Ordered a sheet of lead, and it should arrive in a week or so - we'll see if it's what I need. Hope so!

In the meantime, I have actually done the only physical labor required for any of this. I dug a hole in the backyard for the (airtight, closed) boxes where the pigments will age. The primary-source "recipe" calls for that, so I figured a little digging was reasonable. I could probably approximate the effect by insulating the boxes well and keeping them at roughly the right temperature - but why, since I have this backyard and a shovel? It's about the same amount of work, in the end. Part of me is a little leery of burying a box containing lead, but even if it somehow bursts open and the lead leeches into the groundwater I don't think it will be enough lead to do any significant damage. We aren't talking about an industrial chemical dump here, after all!
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Does anyone have experience re-stretching fabric that has shrunk slightly?

I think it should be possible - I've managed to stretch fabric by accident enough times - but I've never tried it on purpose. The fabric is a lightweight woven cotton, and what I plan to do is dampen it, stretch and pin (maybe to a towel-covered board). Not sure what else to try.

On the flip side, it took navy-blue dye very nicely. (Completely mundane garment, completely mundane Rit dye, but I still was skeptical; it's a lovely color. Just can't wear it without looking like a sausage now.)

I've decided that I am going to try making salt green & lead white pigments for part of the St. Luke's challenge. At least the salt green; lead white will depend on how easy it is to find lead. Theophilus calls for sheets of lead, which would be ideal; but I think I'd settle for lead fishing weights. (Wonder if they still sell those?)

Also need to start encouraging the rosemary in the garden if I want to have enough of that to play around with different ideas for the herbal challenge. I think rosemary will be the herb I focus on; there are just so many interesting references to it in the bit of research I've done. Plus, I love the way it smells.

Having finished the pink stockings for Timoch at his hatching (and what's a significant milestone without a gag gift or two?) I'm now actually finishing the second pair of stockings for *me.* Mine are white, not pink. :-) One pair complete, first stocking of pair 2 complete, second stocking a little more than halfway done. I may have said this before, but - I really begin to understand why people mended and patched and wore these until they absolutely fell apart. When there is this much work going into simple stockings, you want to wring every last day of wear out of them before you have to replace them.
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