Just a quick update on my Shakespeare exposure project…two nights ago I finished reading Cymbeline. This is one of his later romance plays that I started to read over a year ago and had to put aside for some reason or another, and couldn’t remember much of anything about it. This time around I read from the beginning, then went back to the Riverside’s introductory essay last night to get a little more background information.

This post isn’t meant to be any sort of essay or literary criticism because that’s more of a mental commitment than I’m ready to get into for now on this project. However, I will share a few short reflections:

  1. This play seemed easier to read than some of Shakespeare’s others, in terms of grasping the vocabulary and context. I’m not sure if it’s because it was written toward the end of his career and possibly closer to a more contemporary vocabulary, or if the scenes were shorter on average, or what — but it seems I breezed through it much more quickly.
  2. Imogen, the heroine, is one of his better lead female characters. She’s strong, confident, smart, and doesn’t go insane. And, she has perhaps the majority of the plot of the play. Then again, Shakespeare set a pretty low bar with his female characters, so take that as you will.
  3. This play also has some rather disparate plot points that come together clumsily in the final scene. According to the introductory essay, George Bernard Shaw thought it was stale, even by 19th-century standards. But then, some of that is par for a Shakespearean play.
  4. This is classified as a romance. A lot of the tropes seem to be set up for a tragic ending, then everything turns out happily ever after (except for the wicked stepmother and her idiot son — yes, there’s a wicked stepmother — but that’s another note to explore later…). I wonder if perhaps this was originally meant to be a tragedy, then something happened to make Shakespeare change the ending. That could explain the convoluted developments that help set things right — ghosts of dead family members and the god Jupiter changing the game in a bizarre prison dream sequence with sloppy (by the Bard’s standards, anyway) song? If it were written today, I’d call it a marketing decision overriding the writer’s original plans. Hmm.

Next: I decided I want to move on to a comedy. There’s only one I haven’t read yet: Two Gentlemen of Verona. Last night I read the introductory essay, which begins with a foreboding warning that this is Shakespeare’s least popular play ever.  That doesn’t bode well, and it sounds like I’m in for some sub-standard early-period writing. Some would argue, however, that there is no such thing as “sub-standard” Shakespeare, so we’ll see what wonderful little nuggets it has to offer. Apparently it has “a bit with a dog” (one of my favorite throwaway comments from Shakespeare in Love). So, there’s that.

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Under construction…

It’s hard to believe it’s been over two years since my last post! Though it appears I’ve had a “draft” sitting unfinished for almost as long. :-P

Anyhoo, I’m beginning the daunting task of updating this site with things I’ve been doing since fall 2011. This may take a while, but I’ve renovated some info under a “Literary” category — which has a couple child pages.yeild-to-construction

Many thanks to my friend Dena, who found this appropriate link for me! ;-D (And to 1995, who called to say they want it back…)

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Making a 16th Century Japanese Sashimono Flag

Tcroppedflaghis may be an example of a creative whim that snowballs into something tremendous, though whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing may be up to interpretation.

I made it during a secret-santa-type gift exchange for a gentle with a 16th-c. Japanese persona who enjoys fencing. All in all, I enjoyed making it and learned a lot in the process — though the simple idea turned into a much bigger one that I almost didn’t finish on time.

The concept: make something like this

Source: Wikimedia Commons

and design it so it could be easily transported and stand up on its own. The picture above is actually from an 18th-century woodblock print. However, it’s the best (and earliest) image I could find of someone wearing a sashimono who wasn’t a character in a video game.

What is it? The sashimono was the flag worn by Japanese warriors into battle to identify one another — similar to the use of decorated shields and device flags in the Western European Middle Ages. The flag pole was strapped to the warrior’s back and tucked into the belt with a leather “bucket” at the base to keep the wood from getting too uncomfortable (that last bit is my conjecture; it’s the best reason I can think of for putting a wooden pole strapped to someone’s backside into what is essentially a leather flagpole condom).


My lovely spouse, who acquiesced to model the sashimono for this photo.

The self-standing version is a bit more of a “creative anachronism”, a cross between the sashimono and a much larger nobori flag, which could be more rectangular but which was likely to be held by one or more soldiers into battle. This version is much smaller. I called it “nobori-chan”.



  • 1/2 yard of black silk for the flag
  • 1/4 yard of white silk for the flag ties
  • black bamboo stalks
  • 8 skeins of cotton embroidery floss in black, white, and red
  • sewing thread
  • fabric paints
  • scrap wood
  • scrap leather
  • screws
  • black paint
  • scrap fabric
  • calligraphy / illumination supplies

Tools used:

  • Kumihimo foam disk
  • small keychain, twist tie, floss cards, scissors (for the kumihimo)
  • jigsaw
  • power drill
  • power sander
  • screwdriver

Kumihimo: For the kumihimo, I wrapped the skeins of floss onto eight floss cards, tied the ends in a knot and attached the keychain to the knot as a weight (to help with the tension during the braiding process). I used an 8-thread pattern for a lattice design using three colors. As the cord got longer, the twist tie helped bundle it up and out of the way of the dangling threads. it took me about a month and a half of TV-time and other moments of idle sitting time to braid about 8 feet.

Woodworking: I had a little help with this one. Frankly, I’m still trying to get past an inherent fear of power tools and splinters. It’s helpful to have a spouse who’s willing to show me how to use her tools, and do some of the cutting that involves less trepidation with really fast-moving sharp blades, and give me some of her scrap wood pieces. it also doesn’t hurt that she’s a laurel — Mistress Genevieve du Vaucresson. She may not be laureled in woodworking, but she’s pretty much awesome at everything she does, and that includes teaching me how to make a base for a self-standing flagpole.

To make the base, I used a flat square of plywood and five small rectangles of pine, which were sanded before assembling. 008

The flat piece has a hole in the middle wide enough to insert the base of the pole (without the leather bucket), and the four pieces screwed into the bottom as feet help give it stability. A fifth rectangle was added under the middle to give the pole a deeper base so it would stand up straighter. The base was then painted black to match the rest of the ensemble.

The poles were cut from bamboo that had been painted black. Because I wanted this to be travel-friendly, the pieces are collapsible and hold together by way of small dowel rods glued into the ends.


The poles for the sashimono form an upside-down L. To make it fit into the stand, the leather sheath can be removed from the bottom of that pole, which fits into a third pole to give it a little more height.

Leathercraft: For this, I cut a rectangle out of scrap black leather, bored holes with the awl, and stitched it into a tube with white thread in a basic saddle stitch. I decided to leave the stitches on both sides rather than having just one stitch in a cylinder in the hope that it would help the pole stay in place on Saburo’s back. An additional leather piece was added to give it extra support.


Sewing: Coupons for JoAnn’s helped me afford the silk and still stay within the budget for the entire project. After pre-washing and ironing, the black silk was cut and stitched into a 17″ x 17″ square for the sashimono flag. The nobori, which needed to be more rectangular, was cut from the remaining fabric. The white was folded and stitched into one long tube, which I then cut and stitched into individual loops.


I also used some scrap canvas material to make a bag for the sashimono. The bag has a shoulder strap and is shaped to hold the collapsed poles, the flag rolled up around one of them, and the kumihimo. It’s less pretty, but I was going for functionality foremost here. The base has its own bag because putting it in the same container as the rest would have changed the shape and made it less capable to fit into tiny crevices of a car trunk.

Additionally, once I painted the flags (below) I realized I needed something to keep the paint from rubbing off during storage and transportation, so I created three rectangles of fabric to sandwich around the flags when they are rolled up and put away. They could probably double as napkins in  a pinch.

Flag Painting: This took some practice before painting the real thing. I found some online images of Japanese doves on woodblock prints for inspiration, and practiced drawing them facing each other on scrap paper. Then I drew them onto the flag in pencil. Graphite on black silk isn’t terribly easy to see, but it was enough to give me something I could trace with the paintbrush.


For two different flags double-sided, I ended up painting eight doves. Now that’s practice!

The images of the two hato (doves) facing each other is a badge that the recipient had submitted for registration. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s approved so he can go on to use this flag — but even if he ends up changing the image, I’m hoping that he can use this flag as a pattern and just switch out a new square of fabric with the rest of the sashimono accessories.

Since I’ve completed this project, silk dying has become a lot more common in the SCA. We’ve started making some silk banners in our local group — it would have been interesting to see how these flags could have turned out if I’d known how to dye the design rather than rely on fabric paints.

Bardic Geekery: I planned to create assembly instructions because it seemed necessary with so many separate pieces. Because I am also apparently insane, it only seemed appropriate to draw assembly images with cute little manga-style chibi versions of the recipient modeling the sashimono and accompany them with broken-English instructions written as sonnets. How else would a late-16th-century writer translate technical instructions into English? And, yes, apparently I’m enough of a Shakespeare geek that I took that question seriously.

Sashimono Travel Kit

Posted in Fiber Arts, Leathercraft, Literature, Miscellany, Painting | Leave a comment

The painted table and bench project

Table painted red. Design penciled in, some areas painted yellow.

So this is another project that wasn’t going to be finished in time for the Craftsperson’s Faire last weekend. I’m currently undecided whether I should try to bring it to another show-and-tell style faire or enter it in a regional faire.

The project: A few years ago I painted a small collapsible stool from a Pennsic merchant, using a medieval Russian design. Then, last year, I decided to buy a larger table and a second stool, so I could paint them in the same way — only with something more elaborate on the table. Together they would make a three-piece set.

Fast forward to this fall: painting the three pieces (the first stool had enough nicks in the paint that I thought it would be easier to repaint it than hope I could get the exact same shade of red for the rest of the project) took several weeks. This wasn’t slouching. They’re collapsible, so each angle had to be painted, then after that angle dried, each piece was readjusted to a new angle, and so on. I still have red toenails from a month ago, when I was spray painting in my garage while wearing the “painter’s birkenstocks”.

And yes, spray paint. It’s not period, but it goes a lot faster on a sloooooow project. So maybe I was a bit ambitious with the whole thing. I’ll just have to shellac the hell out of everything, and hopefully prevent it from getting quite so many nicks as the first piece did. And it might take five coats of yellow paint. I’ve already painted three and I’m not sure a fourth would finish it.

So…what design to paint on the table? The original stool design is yellow and blue knotwork with some gold Russian-style fleur-de-lis on the corners. After some deliberation I decided on a gaming table theme. I measured out a backgammon board set in the middle. I still need to figure out what to do on the sides, where people would presumably put extra pieces, or throw dice, or whatever.

Backgammon board penciled onto the table.

And do I paint the pieces and dice? Where do I go with this project? It’s starting to spiral, and I’ve only done a superfluous bit of research to prove that Russains would have plausibly heard of backgammon, though no direct proof that they played it. And the paint is all modern spray paint and acrylic — not terribly impressive for a competition.

Although I’ve thought that it might be a nice touch to translate a slogan into Old Church Slavonic and wrap it around the board: “When life fails to give you directions, make up your own rules.”

Something I remember from studying Russian years ago is that the Russian language does not have its own word for “fun”. Still, they had to have something to break up the monotony of drinking. Maybe they could have enjoyed a game of backgammon. Or someone brought back a board from Constantinople, tried to teach some friends, but couldn’t remember how it was supposed to go. So they starting making it up. Sounds fun enough to me.

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The SCA needs African personas

This week, thanks to Netflix’s selection of BBC documentaries on their Watch Instantly collection, I’ve stumbled across a fantastic four-part series called The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. This is a must-see for anyone with an interest in history, reenactors, fans of African culture — wait, stop. Everyone must see this.

Over four one-hour episodes, Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford explores the legacies of cultures that spanned millenia, created magnificent masterpieces of art and architecture, established trade with Arabs and Eurasia, and have been virtually ignored by modern world history textbooks. It’s amazing to see the pyramids of the Sudan, the 500 BC Synagogue and medieval cathedral of Ethiopia, the castles of Zimbabwe and the bronze plaques of Benin.

As a history geek, it’s thrilling to watch the series. As a reenactor, it really makes me look at the art and think about how to put together a kit for reenacting a persona from one of these kingdoms. In the SCA, we have a diverse representation of cultures from Europe, Asia, East Asia, even parts of the Americas, and North Africa — but sub-Saharan culture just isn’t done. I might have seen someone at Pennsic last summer wearing an African costume, but it was in passing and even then I’m not sure that’s what was being represented.

And, of course, there’s a section of the SCA that insists that all cultures we recreate must have had ties with Western Europe between 600 and 1600. I’d argue that that distinction is a slippery slope, especially when we have 600 AD Britons interacting with 1600 AD Japanese, or Arabs with Aztecs. If we’re going to make allowances for that much diversity in recreating the cultures over a span of 1,000 years, why not Africa? We have proof that they interacted with Arabs and Jews, and towards the end of our period they interacted with Portugese merchants. And, their cultures are fabulous.

So, I’d like to send out a call to anyone in the SCA who is looking for a persona to develop, who wants something off the beaten path, with a long and rich cultural history, beautiful accessories, and scholarly reputation (Timbuktu was an important university center in the medieval Muslim world), adopt an African persona. I want to start seeing Africans in the SCA!

As someone with a Russian persona and a bad habit of taking on too many new projects, I’m a bit intimidated of committing myself to researching a whole continent of other cultures for garb, metallurgy, woodcarving, etc. — for now. Yeah, it sounds lame of me to put that out there. But, if anyone is turned on by the idea of starting a group within the SCA to collaborate on this research and collecting a shared knowledge base for recreators, I’m in. Come on, it would be cool…very cool. Who’s interested?

Posted in Miscellany, Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Catpain Renault inspects the tokens that I received at the Craftspersons Faire. Less than a second after the camera snapped the picture, half of those tokens were on the floor.

This last Saturday was Crown Tourney, which featured a Craftsperson’s Faire for A&S projects. I took my newly finished Russian black belt in for show-and-tell, and some kind patrons of the arts left me these tokens of appreciation.

I love the idea of tokens like these. One day when I’m a little more organized, I’d like to have a collection of things I can make to hand out for these such occasions. Most of these are little things like beads or pieces of candy, though some people are very inventive in finding or creating small objects that are personalized to their own areas of interest, or things that would be very practical in making more things (and apparently my vocabulary is very thing-like this evening).

Combined swag from the Spring A&S Regional & Kingdom Faires, and the Pennsic Known Worlde Faire. All 2011. There's also a little pearl ring which didn't make it into this picture.

I still have no idea what I would make, or what I could make that would be travel-friendly and easy to put together in significant quantities. I like the idea of the Christmas ornaments, or the pewter pins, however, or even just a small sample of something larger.

Anyway, it’s something to think about. I have until next spring if I want to put something together to hand out at the regional faire. As long as I don’t kill myself with another crazy pentathlon entry (ha!), this may be something to work on over the next few months.

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Lessons I’ve learned about belts, Part 2

tooling work on a belt fashioned after curls in the design on the brass buckle and tip

tooling work on a belt fashioned after curls in the design on the brass buckle and tip

Gum Traganth is my new friend. I tried it for the first time on a Russian-style belt (above) and I wish I’d been using it since the beginning.

First, maybe I should mention something about the tooling I did for it. The design is based on some curls in the design on the brass buckle and tip (which I bought together at Pennsic from the same merchant who sold me Roana’s 13th. c. Norman belt buckle). I practiced carving the design into a spare piece of leather, until I felt certain I could carve spirals curling in opposite directions without screwing up, then started carving it into the belt itself (at which point I immediately started screwing up. Oh well. The devil is in the details…) So, that brings me to the topic of…

Tooling knives
Last weekend I was in a discussion with another leathercrafter about the merits of various knives for tooling leather. In my last post, I mentioned that I had given up using a swivel knife in favor of a scratch awl. It does a better job on small details, but my awl isn’t nearly as comfortable to grasp for longer periods of time. It’s shaped to be held in the ball of the hand, rather than an X-acto knife, which the other crafter recommended to me.

And, admittedly, an X-acto knife won’t cramp up my hand quite as badly as the scratch awl. Still, my experience with using the X-acto knife is that it cut much more deeply than seemed to work for tooling. There seems to be a higher learning curve for using it to cut just deep enough for tooling without cutting too deep.

If only I could find the happy love child of a scratch awl and an X-acto knife. My search continues…

After carving the design and going over it again with the modeling tool to smooth out the details, that was pretty much it for tooling. The extant examples I’ve seen in period don’t have much indication of other types of tooling stamps, though admittedly I haven’t seen everything. Bring on the books! Bring on the sources! Anyone have anything they can recommend?

Gum Traganth
So — gum traganth. I love it. It makes the edges so much smoother to the touch and feels like a much more finished piece. Since my how-to books didn’t really have anything to say about how to apply it, or whether it should go on before or after stain/finish, I tested it on the edge of my tester piece first.

Verdict: Gum Traganth won’t get in the way of applying the stain, so go ahead and use it first before applying stain or sealer finish.

I used a Q-tip to apply the gum to the edge, just a few inches at a time. Then, I rubbed the section with an edge slicker until it felt smooth. I continued this way up and down both sides, front and back, curving the belt back and forth as that seemed to bring out more of the cracks that needed treatment.

I don’t know if this was overkill. But it seemed like once I finished the second side of the belt, the first side stopped feeling quite as smooth as I’d left it. All in all I might have gone over each side twice, adding more gum and rubbing. I think it worked better when I went in smaller sections of just maybe four inches at a time rather than longer strips. The result is a very smooth edge that I like very much.

After that, I brushed on the stain. At first I started smearing deep into the tooled creases to make sure I covered everything. Then, I lightly applied a smear tht didn’t go into the crevices.

Lighly applying the stain highlights the tooled detail. Ahh, hindsight! Let's remember this for a future project, shall we?

How pretty – and it nicely shows off the tooling. Too bad I didn’t start applying it that way! Since I’d already dyed part of it completely black, I decided to carry on that way. Maybe I can use this trick on a future project, and use a bright color to paint inside the crevices. Or maybe paint the crevices, then apply the stain. Hmm….

My one issue with the stain on this is that I’m still finding little tiny spots that haven’t gotten the stain. Not in the tooling; that part’s soaked up as much as it can. It’s in the edges, in tiny little spots that I tried to patch last week. Now, I’m finding a few more. I don’t know if they’re the same spots, or if it’s something to do with the gum traganth blocking the application, or if the belt just got banged around too much when I took it to the A&S faire at Crown Tourney on Saturday. Or is it because I did too much whittling on the edges and that weakened the leather? Do I just have some deep cracks that can’t be patched so easily?

Attaching the brass buckle and tip. I used leather cement glue between the leather and brass, and also lightly smeared it on top of the brads after I parted and hammered them down.

So much of these projects are trial and error. Still, if anyone reads this and has any advice, please share in the comments!

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