The Saga of this ludicrous coat: an Arts and Sciences entry

Posted by on Sunday, October 14th, 2018

I went to a local SCA event yesterday called “The Wild Hunt.”  They had a pair of A&S competitions, one of which intrigued me. “Best fix” was all about a correction or repair, and this coat fit the bill perfectly.

helm

My partner Alherin began using a Valsgärde 6 helmet for tourney fighting in the spring of 2017. The helm is based on a Vendel era boat grave find from Sweden, dating to 660-710 CE 1, and thus later than the material he had previously used to guide decisions about his kit. In general, reproductions of extant early period armor need a great deal of modification to function for SCA combat, and many soldiers or warriors in the ancient and early medieval world had little gear beyond weapons and a helm. Helms like the Valsgärde 6 require the addition of bar grills or some other facial and neck protection, modifications to the size of eye openings, etc. Moreover, the sort of neck, body, leg, arm, and hand armor that functions well for SCA tourney combat was largely developed after the time period he chose for this kit. Alherin cobbled together a kit made up of both modern sports equipment (groin protection, padding, and kydex body armor) and later period items (splinted arms and legs, gauntlets, gorget) that function well and meet SCA safety requirements. Once he had assembled and constructed a new tourney kit, I took on the task of covering the combination of reproduction and modern gear that worked for his fighting style so that he would look as good and as “period” as possible, given the scant evidence of Vendel era armor and textiles available.

Valsgärde 6 has, arguably, the most beautiful helmet of any of the finds in the burial complex. But it has little else2. It is possible that the boat graves were robbed at some point, but whether natural or human intervention is to blame, we had no inhumed garment to use as a basis for this exact helm. I consulted a number of sources and settled on a modified klappenrock to cover his armor and serve as a quasi-heraldic garment so Alherin would be identifiable on the field. The v-neck of such a coat would expose his armor, however, and since we have no doumentable gorget or breast place options to turn to, I decided to use a round neckline with a button attachment instead. Ideally, a wool twill would serve as the primary fabric for a klappenrock, but washabillity, local weather patterns, and Alherin’s own desires took precedence and I used a heavyweight linen tabby instead. I opted to rely on the checkered patchwork of our tribe Preachain as an accent in the gores, along the placket, and on the sleeves. I also opted add embroidery to the back of the coat to please a dear friend3, choosing a design our dear friend Bran painted on one of Alherin’s shields. Knowing that the coat would face a lot of wear, I used a mid-weight pearl cotton for my embroidery fiber and relied on chain stitch for the majority of the work on that back piece.

Before making the coat, I’d studied the history of embroidery for several years and built a class on the subject. I knew what stitches were common in period and what would wear well. I’d done some experimentation with embroidery as a repair method, and I know a number of people who are much better at drawing than I am, so I hoped to convince at least a few of them to sketch designs for me as need required.
coat2
(Photo by Krystal Smith)

When Alherin stepped onto the field in this coat the first few times, I knew that friends would make a game of trying to break the button off in combat (none has succeeded thus far) and that the black and red colors our tribe relies on would fade with washing and the sun. I also knew that embroidery developed out of repair techniques like pattern darning, and was ready to do some repair now and then.

brigid

What I did not know was that his new splinted legs would eat the coat from the inside. He wore it for the first time in Spring Crown of 2017 and it took some minor damage, so I made some minor repairs. The repair process hasn’t stopped since. After several repairs were complete, he asked me to add a small Brigid’s Cross to the back piece to symbolize my own heraldry. Ever other stitch I’ve added post-debut has been a decorative repair.

feather

I may have created a monster. I have definitely created an amazing testing ground. The cotton embroidery has fared far better than the silk, as to be expected. At least one of the detergents we’ve used has caused some very sad fading and dulling to the silk repair embroideries.


1 John Ljungkvist, Uppsala University: The development and chronology of the Valsgärde cemetery” table 1a-b. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278009526_The_development_and_chronology_of_the_Valsgarde_cemetery

2 Maja Wikborg: “The absence of human remains in Valsgärde cemetery. Natural process or ritual phenomena?”

3 Ursus does not want anyone to have solid black, red, or white surcoats because it causes lens flare and color distortion in processing. We listen to Ursus’s guidelines because we adore him.

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Competitions

Posted by on Thursday, May 31st, 2018

I’ve never been wild about competitions, particularly Bardic competitions, because of a myriad of reasons.  We all do things differently; we have different styles and time-periods that interest us; we focus more or less on spoken or sung pieces; favor different vocal styles; and on and on and on.  I think I’ve participated in six as an entrant in the 30ish years I’ve been performing in the reenactment community.  There have been competitions where I performed something but asked not to be entered in the formal judging, either because it was a competition to select a champion from a place where I didn’t live or because I was just trying out a brand new thing that wasn’t ready yet.  Here’s the list of competitions I entered that I can call to mind. 

  • Some random event down south when the Torc Song was new: Valerian/Vale/Phil was the one who gathered the prize–a cup full of coins and beads–and the performances took place in the feast hall after dinner was over.  They judged the winner based on the volume of applause. I won.  Valerian was incredbly kind.  I was 17 or 18. Strangers talked to me.  It was dizzying and strange and I wanted to hide but I tried to pretend to be a person.
  • Ice Axe, sometime in the early to mid 1990s.  My armor was new and after I’d completely tanked in the tourney, I was press-ganged into entering it into static A&S on behalf of the folks who helped me make it–B-Zar and Bain–and it won something.  I then had a surreal conversation with the Prince at the time, who awkwardly tried to talk me into doing some ludicrous embroidery for him.  And then there was the bardic competition during the feast.  Warning/Killy the Song was brand new (and had its original tune and evil pacing), and I sang that and won.  And then I was lectured for about an hour by a person who shall remain nameless.  Apparently it was wrong for me to receive two prizes in one day, and I shouldn’t really be entering competitons at all because I wasn’t an apprentice, etc. etc.  My household was on the outs with the regional leadership, and I think I just ended up being the scapegoat for a minute.  And that was when I decided that A&S competitions were maybe not for me.
  • Some random pennsic, Etaine and I went to participate in the Chalk Man bardic competition.  I did well but she nailed it with Rumble/Nine/Song of the Varian Disaster, which was relatively new.  Truly.  Nailed it.  She won.  People wept.  Standing Ovation.  Rending of garments.  Marriage proposals.  WON.  And the organizers gave the prize to their house band because the competition was fixed.  We called them on their trash and they admitted it was fixed but asked us to leave.  Shenanigans ensued.  I’ll leave it at that. I was not impressed. 
  • Gulf Wars 2013? 2012? My dear friend Mistress Gwen from Meridies convinced me to enter a performing arts competition–probably the “open.”  I was hesitant because my voice was trashed, so I performed two spoken pieces: Dan do Emain Macha and Boudicca.  I did well but didn’t win.  A person who stayed at the bead cups by the static displays beat me by a bead.  I was absolutely fine with the results and just needed to get back to camp to make dinner, and suddenly Gwen was nowhere to be found. Lo and behold, she had been carried away by other laurels and they were plotting and scheming.  They ended up deciding to make up another award and brought a delegation of amazing people to our long hall for a command performance and award presentation.  It was one of the proudest, most humbling moments of my life–and yes I realize that is a contradiction. But it was.  I wept, kneeling on the stone floor of the hall with Vashti, who had the audacity to try to kneel to me. The significance of the moment was clear to maybe five people in the room, and it was amazing.  
  • Battle on the Bay 2014: Teleri heard me perform a spoken piece by the fire on Friday and graciously asked me to take part in the storytelling competition on Saturday.  I planned to just listen because I had not prepared anything, but the folks there convinced me to enter.  And I won.  They were very kind, and I felt like a jerk. I felt like I butted in and wasn’t really following the rules. 
  • Ruby Joust 2018: There was a competition for the Baronial Bards.  I am not one, because I don’t live in a Barony and I have refused treatied-in Champion in the past, hoping to help folks encourage newer bards. But my friend Mishee, the bard for Highland Forde, asked me to fill in for her.  So I did, and I won.  And I felt like a jerk who butted in and wasn’t really following the rules. Do you sense a trend?

 

Here is the rub: I don’t like competitions because they make me feel like a bully.  I have had the sort of education and performance experience that is not common amongst new bards.  I’ve been doing this thing since I was a kid. But I don’t hold many honors within the organization for a variety of reasons.  So people ask me to participate because they want to encourage me or to shine a light on me, but I feel like I don’t belong in that position.  And just writing that makes me feel like I’m spewing out hubris.  But I never, ever want to be the bludgeon that makes another artist feel like they’re failing.

When a normal artist or artisan would have been seeking a Laurel to train with, I was in grad school neck deep in ancient Celtic languages, and my household was so far out of favor in the SCA that Atlantia would have preferred we did not exist at all.  During that period of my life, people from very very far away asked me to apprentice to them, but I knew that rarely went well, so I declined.  Now I am more aware of how my anxiety works and know accepting an apprenticeship would put me in a constant state of stress.  I can’t do that to myself or those close to me–it would be madness.  Madness. 

So I sit here, trying to map a path out of this conundrum.  A friend and I are hosting a Bardic Challenge this weekend–not a competition.  I think we would both like to steer these events in a different, more nurturing direction. I know I’m not alone in this angsty place.  I hope we can all help each other. I don’t think there are any easy answers for me, but I’d like to keep other artists out of this position in which I find myself.

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Fatten your animal for sacrifice, poet,

Posted by on Friday, May 11th, 2018

“Fatten your animal for sacrifice, poet, 
but keep your muse slender. —”

Καλλίμαχος/Callimachus 310/305–240 BC
Scholar at the Library of Alexandria

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Orion Dead [Artemis speaks]

Posted by on Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Orion Dead
H.D. 1886-1961

[Artemis speaks]

The cornel-trees
uplift from the furrows,
the roots at their bases
strike lower through the barley-sprays.

So arise and face me.
I am poisoned with the rage of song.

I once pierced the flesh
of the wild-deer,
now am I afraid to touch
the blue and the gold-veined hyacinths?

I will tear the full flowers
and the little heads
of the grape-hyacinths.
I will strip the life from the bulb
until the ivory layers
lie like narcissus petals
on the black earth.

Arise,
lest I bend an ash-tree
into a taut bow,
and slay—and tear
all the roots from the earth.

The cornel-wood blazes
and strikes through the barley-sprays,
but I have lost heart for this.

I break a staff.
I break the tough branch.
I know no light in the woods.
I have lost pace with the winds.

 

How is it I can miss a poet so painfully, despite the fact that she died before I was born?  

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Eating Poetry

Posted by on Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Eating Poetry
by Mark Strand

 
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
 
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
 
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
 
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
 
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.
 
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

 

Inspiration Rachel and I relied on for our poetry blog, and a beautifully fitting image of how I view reading.

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I envy them their public love

Posted by on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

“I envy them their public love. I myself have only known it in secret, shared it in secret and longed, aw longed to show it—to be able to say out loud what they have no need to say at all: That I have loved only you, surrendered my whole self reckless to you and nobody else. That I want you to love me back and show it to me. That I love the way you hold me, how close you let me be to you. I like your fingers on and on, lifting, turning. I have watched your face for a long time now, and missed your eyes when you went away from me. Talking to you and hearing you answer—that’s the kick. ”
“But I can’t say that aloud; I can’t tell anyone that I have been waiting for this all my life and that being chosen to wait is the reason I can. If I were able I’d say it. Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now.”

from Toni Morrison’s Jazz

I adore Morrison.  

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The Song of Wandering Aengus

Posted by on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

The Song of Wandering Aengus
William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
 
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
 
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

Michael Gambon reciting the poem
Need I explain?  This is gateway Yeats.  I’ve loved it since I was a child. 

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Wherever You Woke by Dermot Bolger

Posted by on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Wherever You Woke
by Dermot Bolger

There only ever was one street
     One back garden, one bedroom:
Wherever you woke you woke beneath
     The ceiling where you were born,
For the briefest unconscious second
     An eyelid’s flutter from home.

I found this in a compilation called Soho Square Six the first time I went to Ireland.  I was a college student, and I was achingly homesick and very very happy by turns. Bolger’s words comforted me in exactly the moment I needed them, and I managed to scrounge up enough cash to buy another large book I’d have to tote around and squeeze into my luggage. 

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from Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby

Posted by on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

“a girl has got to be a daughter first. She have to learn that. And if she never learns how to be a daughter, she can’t never learn how to be a woman. I mean a real woman: a woman good enough for a child; good enough for a man – good enough even for the respect of other women.”
Ondine, in Morrison’s masterful Tar Baby, one of my favorite examples of Magical Realism. 

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Gathering up my Commonplace Book

Posted by on Thursday, April 5th, 2018

At some point, as a strange child who decided to write the Great American Novel (whatever the hell that even means), I stumbled across the concept of a “Commonplace Book.”  And I started sort of keeping one.  The things I would include in my Commonplace book pop up in my journals, in notebooks, on slips of paper and via highlighted sections in text books.  Many people encourage hand-written Commonplace Books for a myriad of excellent reasons.  But my journals have no concordance, and that is unlikely to change.  So it’s time to start building a digital one here. Hence the new category and the browsing of countless pages of my own messy scrawl.  And now to begin . . .

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