Thursday, February 05, 2009

Toe up socks, in miniature

This is my class hand out:

These socks will fit the miniature sock blockers found on the internet, or you can add a loop to make it a decorative ornament. The purpose of learning a miniature sock first is so that we can finish within the time allotted and have all the skills in place to scale up for an adult-sized sock, so parenthetically I will comment on how I make them my sized (about 8.5 ladies). I suggest making one sock this size and trying it on, and then adjusting your pattern to fit you- and you're welcome to contact me on advice on fitting for your foot.

Casting on and Toe:
I like the Turkish cast on, 12 stitches (32 stitches). Begin by holding the yarn between the two needles with the tail hanging down in front of the lower needle. Wrap the working yarn up and over from back to front, down and under from front to back, six times (16 times). At the end of the required number of wraps, your working yarn is at the back, coming up from behind the lower needle. Slide the lower needle further to the right and the upper to the left, and just start knitting across. Turn and do the second needle the same (For the adult sock, either use circulars or add another needle every 8 stitches on dpns). I find it easier to split the sock across four dpns or two circulars at this point. Then we do the increases. Knit one. Make one – by lifting the bar between the two stitches or by knitting into the stitch below the next stitch. Knit across the top of the row until one stitch shy. Make one – by lifting the bar between the two stitches or by knitting into the stitch below the previous stitch (so it mirrors the other side). Knit one. Turn work and repeat on bottom half. Then knit a full round. Repeat until you get the desired number of stitches 24 (64).

If this doesn't work for you and you are getting horribly frustrated, do a provisional cast on with a crochet chain made with waste yarn. Crochet a minimum of number of stitches needed for one side plus two for a little wiggle room, so that is 12 (32). Insert the needle through the back of the chain where there is only one loop. Knit into these with your yarn. Then follow the directions for the short-row heel. On the last knit across picking up wraps, carefully unzip the crochet chain, picking up the live stitches on another needle. Then you can continue to knit around the sock, and don't forget to pick up the last of the wraps as you pass them.

Knit until desired length of foot. For the miniature sock, until when you insert your thumb into the toe the edge of knitting reaches your knuckle. For my foot, I knit until I can rest the base of the toe even with the base of my palm and reach the last knuckle on my middle finger, or 5.5 inches.

Because your ankle is wider than your foot, one usually needs a gusset. On the bottom half, do an increase row: Knit one. Make one, by lifting the bar between the two stitches or by knitting into the stitch below the next stitch. Knit across the top of the row until one stitch shy. Make one, by lifting the bar between the two stitches or by knitting into the stitch below the previous stitch (so it mirrors the other side). Knit one. For the miniature sock, you only need one. For the adult sock, you will need to alternate a plain row and increase row 4 times after this, making your stitch count 42 on the bottom (or adding 5 stitches to each side on the bottom).

Short row heel:
All heel directions look weird and confusing until you actually try them. Work *only* on the bottom half of the sock.
Row 1: Knit 13 (41) stitches (all but one of the bottom). Move the working yarn as if to purl. Slip the last, unworked stitch from the left needle to the right needle. Turn your work. This is called wrap and turn, because you are wrapping a stitch and turning the work.
Row 2: Slip the first, unworked, stitch from the left needle to the right needle, finishing the wrap & turn. Purl the next stitch and purl across to the last stitch. Move the working yarn as if to knit and slip last stitch. Turn.
Row 3: Slip the first stitch and knit across to the last stitch before the unworked stitch. Wrap and turn.
Row 4: Slip the first stitch and purl across to the stitch before the unworked stitch. Wrap and turn.
Repeat Rows 3 and 4 until 3 (10) of the heel stitches are wrapped and on left side, 8 (22) stitches are "live" in the middle, and 3 (10) are wrapped and on the right. At this stage, you should be ready to work a right side row. Your heel is half done.

Now you'll work the second half of the heel:
Row 1: Knit across the 8 (22) live stitches across to the first unworked, wrapped stitch. To work this stitch, pick up the wrap and knit it together with the stitch. Always pick up the wrap from the outside of the sock. Wrap the next stitch (so that it now has two wraps) and turn.
Row 2: Slip the first (double-wrapped) stitch and purl across to the first unworked, wrapped stitch. Pick up the wrap and purl it together with the stitch. Wrap the next stitch and turn.
On subsequent rows you will pick up both wraps and knit or purl them together with the stitch. Continue until you run out of wrapped stitches on a knit row. You will go back to knitting across the top of the foot. When you reach the bottom of the foot and the wrapped stitches there, pick up the wraps and continue around.

Gusset removal:
Now we have to get rid of the extra stitches we put in for the gusset. At the start of the next bottom half of the sock, slip, slip knit (or k2tog tbl). At the end of the bottom of the sock, knit two together (k2tog). For the miniature sock, you only added one, so do it once. For the adult sock, do this for five rows.

Just knit. Again, you can use your thumb and knuckle as a guide, or fold the sock at the heel, and when you reach the start of the narrowing of the toe, you've got enough (and that's how I measure the adult socks; I like short socks).

A little ribbing on the top looks nice and helps your sock stay up. For the miniature sock, three rows of knit one purl one suffice. For adult socks, knit 2 purl 2 works better, and an inch is the minimum I recommend. You can do the whole ankle in ribbing if you like ribbing.

Cast off:
I have a nasty habit at this point of getting out the crochet hook. But a simple knit 2 together, move loop off right needle and back onto the left needle, repeat also works well.

Turkish cast-on directions were lifted in part off the Tsarina of Tsocks' instructions. You can find her Tsocks 101 kit and others at or Caveat: I work for her. I still recommend her Tsocks 101 kit as an awesome resource for toe-up or cuff down sock directions as she explains several techniques.

The short-row heel directions are partially lifted from Wendy Knits, free Generic Toe up pattern:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Different sheep

I was going to write a long article about the sheep fleece sampler I bought, but my boss seems to have done it already for me. I got the same sampler for my birthday last month... and I have already washed most of the locks. But I am not as good of a spinner (having only spun a few months less than Lisa) and when I sat down to wheel with locks in hand, I was stumbling too much. I need to work more on my spinning techniques, and probably to learn how to do long-draw. The problem with hanging out with Lisa and some of the know-everythings on Ravelry is I want to run before I can walk, and sometimes I get slapped with not knowing how to crawl. But I can say a few items of insight which will probably be of little use.

Working with Romney locks does remind me of wanting to run my fingers through the locks of Gene Wilder's hair.

I'm pretty confident at this time that I don't ever really want to deal with unwashed fleece again. The Jacob fleece was seriously covered in shit and I could not break it into locks for cleaning. All two ounces were tossed in the sink en masse, and I hope I didn't felt in the washing. But it was *clean* when I finished.

The merino wasn't a high quality fleece. There was a definite break half an inch from the cut end, and it did not look like mistakes with the clippers. I ended up tossing about half of it.

This corridale was white and so light and fluffy with tiny crimp, I like to fantasize this must be the stereotypical nursery rhyme sheep- white and fluffy clouds.

I also washed the polwarth and dorset, saving the Liecesters and the longer staples, and the double coats for my next washing session.

Discussing the domestication of sheep as the road to civilization with my lord and anyone who will listen is great fun.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My first wheel, an Ashford Traditional

And my first yarn on it, a 44-yard 2-ply purple wool.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Processing Flax

These photos were taken at the Fingerlakes Fiberfestival in 2008, as demonstrated by Wendy Caffee. I've read this in Markham, but never actually saw someone go through all of the steps before.

She started her demonstration by talking about growing flax in Pennsylvania, and how it ought to be planted 5 seeds per square inch to prevent the plan from branching out too much - straight stalk = straight fiber- and when to harvest- from 90 to 120 days. Finer flax comes from the earlier date, but if you want seeds for next year, one ought to wait until the flowers have started to go to seed. The stalk should yellow about a third of the way up, and one must weed in the beginning. Then ideally tie the bundles up for drying.

This is a dried flax bundle with the flowers still on it. The device below (a ripple- thanks Habetrot) is designed to be the first run through to break up the bundle and remove the flowers- or you can lay out a sheet and walk upon it with flat shoes (pattens), which will do an initial brake as well. Then you can take the sheet and separate out the chaff so you collect the seed for next year.

Then one must brake the flax. These two devices are called brakes and they will break the outer crust and begin to separate the fibers. The one on the left is designed to be used standing, and the one she is using is for kneeling or sitting.

The next step is called scutching, and I did not get any pictures of her in action doing this step. It's essentially beating it between two boards, cracking off any light chaff further and separating the fibers.

She is flicking the flax at a coarse heckle. This separates the flax from the tow. She offered up the tow to any Revolutionary or Civil War reinactors for gun cleaning. She also stated that the tow was used for various things like mattress stuffing, and while I had not heard that, it made sense. The hank was then put through a succession of finer heckles.

Spinning flax on the wheel with a distaff. Her distaff was obviously hand made of greenwood twisted and tied to the useful shape and then dried. Note also the little clay pot for wetting her hands as she goes, so she can spin wet. This isn't an Ashford Traditional wheel, but it's very similar.

These are several examples of her handspun flax. They are placed on a sheet she found in a garage sale that was done entirely by hand and embroidered with initials and year of 18something. The hand is fondling a small skein of stinging nettles. Behind it is flax she has prepared for spinning.

Notice the lovely collection of heckles on the left side of the table, with the finest closest to the viewer. Not finest quality- but finest grade because those are the tines thinnest and closest together. Her collection mainly consists of antiques local to Pennsylvania.

The paddles are scutching knives for scutching. I didn't photograph the actual scutch board, and I should have.

The two hanks of raw flax show the difference between dry and wet retting- dry wetting is done by leaving it lying out on the grass and letting the bacteria and dew do the work. It's the one on the right- the darker one. The lighter one was done by retting wet. She admitted to not using a stream, but using bins of water.

Her coarsest heckle is in the background. On the left of this pic is a little commercially prepared flax.

And for something completely different, for Lady Kayley:

This is a loom specifically designed for weaving trim, like an inkle loom. Main difference- inkles are a little more portable and you can add as many heddles as you like- here you are limited to one real heddle. Inkles will only have the length you can fit on the loom- but she can put many, many more yards on this loom. It's from 1810? or so. She bought it on ebay. I think this is Bonnie Weidert, and she's written a book about Tape Looms: Past and Present, which includes a history of and pattern collection.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spindle whorls

Lately, I've been obsessed with spindles. I wanted to know why most of the high-end spindles for sale (Golding, Bosworth, Butterfly Girl, LDL Danish Woodturner, and others) were all high whorls. The whorl, to clarify, is the weighted disc on the spindle. I had heard "All spindles in period were bottom whorls." Usually when I hear such an absolute statement, my hackles go up, so I poked my nose in a few books and websites.

It turns out the earliest top whorl spindle is around 3000 BC shown on a wall carving in an Egyptian tomb. (one source for this is the book Prehistoric Textiles By E. J. W. Barber, which can be found on Google Books) Top whorls were also called "Scandinavian spindles" throughout the middle ages, and were also used throughout the middle east. Bottom whorls were used throughout western Europe. In fact, there are images of spinning flax from a distaff without any whorl at all on the spindle, or using a middle whorl and letting the flax wind over the whorl. But that's with Flax, and leads to why the difference in whorls- it's all about the length of the staple of the fiber.

In Egypt and the middle east, the fibers are mainly cotton and camel- and these are very short staple fibers. There is also some goat, but the goats don't have seriously huge undercoats or they would not survive the heat. Again, short staple.

In Scandinavia, they have a lot of reindeer undercoat- again a short staple.

In western Europe, it's linen and flax - which have very long staples of 6 to 12 inches. Many of the wools have long staples as well.

A bottom whorl works better with a long staple, and that's why it was the preferred spindle there.

A top whorl works better with a short staple. It's so common right now because the most popular fiber for spinning seems to be merino with its 3 inch staple.

Think about the length between shaft where the yarn is and the hook (or half hitch) leading to the actual spinning area. If it's longer than a 4 inch distance, the odds are better that a staple of half that distance is going to break if you lose concentration or aren't paying attention. Therefore a 3 inch staple is less likely to break with a nice top whorl, and a 12 inch staple can handle being wrapped over the bottom of the bottom whorl, hooked there, brought up to the shaft, secured with a half hitch, and then being spun from there.

A bibliography with some spinning pictures.
A source for bulk silk and hemp, with rare books.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Camping toilet

This seems like a very good alternative, if a bit pricy for overseas.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A song, from "A Metamorphosis Upon Ajax" by Sir John Harrington, published in 1596, London. Yes, folks, he's the reason we call toilets Johns. And some people will call them Sir Harry too.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The other Eleanor of Toledo Sock Patterns

So you don't have to struggle to Look for them.

The TI pattern, at a larger gauge and missing a few crucial YOs.

The pay pattern at MimKnits.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eleanor of Toledo Socks

Please note: This is Not a Pattern by Me (George Anne)- This is a pattern written by Anne from the Kingdom of Atlantia, whom I met via Ravelry, and this has been posted here as a courtesy for those who wish to *test* her pattern for these socks. Please send comments to me and I will pass them on to her, or directly to her if you are also on Ravelry and are on the Medieval Textiles or SCA Fiber Artists groups. ALSO: The above chart is for a larger gauge than what appears in the directions below, so the directions are not in sync with the chart, but the chart should still give a good idea of the finished image you will produce.

Eleanora of Toledo Stockings

This is a fairly complicated pattern for a really beautiful stocking. There are simpler renditions available, but this one is the closest one I have been able to work out, and I have been knitting for 40 years. I personally find a chart easier to follow in complicated patterns such as this one. I will include a copy of my working notes, which includes the charts and construction notes.

Use size 00 (or size you need to get a gauge of 12 stitches per inch) and super fingering or lace weight yarn.

The stocking is worked from the top down, including a fold-over cuff that would normally cover garters. For ease of construction, work the cuff, then flip the work inside out and continue stocking. If you want a period heel, you should probably work a shaped common heel, keeping in pattern throughout. The stockings themselves are in a condition which does not allow precise planning for re-creating the heel and sole of the foot. Comfort perhaps would dictate a stocking stitch sole, but I have not found it to be an issue, and I really believe the pattern was worked all the way down, especially after I finished the first one, and saw that everything worked beautifully and made complete sense once it was properly executed. Likewise, the back of the extant stocking is not visible in museum photographs. I tried different kinds of shaping and discovered that the paired decreases found in most other extant stockings worked really well with the Toledo pattern. Panels “melt” into each other as they are reduced and the pattern then continues uninterrupted.

Cast on 144 stitches evenly distributed over your needles. You are going to be working in the round at all points except the heel flap.

Rnd 1: Purl

Rnd 2: Knit

Rnd 3: Purl

Rnd 4: (purl 1, knit 17) across

Rnd 5: Purl 2, (knit 15, purl 3) across, end purl 1.

Rnd 6: Knit 1, purl 2, (knit 13, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2) across, end purl 2.

Rnd 7: Purl 1, knit 1, purl 2, (knit 11, purl 2, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 2) across, end purl 1.

Rnd 8: Purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, (knit 9, purl 2, knit 1, purl 3, knit 1, purl 2) across, end purl 2, knit 1, purl 1.

Rnd 9: Knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, (knit 7, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2) across, end purl 2, knit 1, purl 2.

Rnd 10: Knit 2, purl 2, knit 1, purl2, (knit 5, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 3, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2) across, end knit 1.

Rnd 11: Knit 3, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, (knit 3, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 5, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2) across, end knit 2.

Rnd 12: Knit 4, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, (knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 7, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2) across, end knit 3.

Rnd 13: Knit 5, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 3, knit 1, purl 2, knit 9) across, end knit 4.

Rnd 14: Knit 6, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 1, knit 1, purl 2, knit 11) across, end knit 5.

Rnd 15: Knit 7, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 13) across, end knit 6.

Rnd 16: Knit 8, (purl 3, knit 15) across, end knit 7.

Rnd. 17: Knit 9, (purl 1, knit 17) across, end knit 8.

*******This ends the first pattern section on cuff.

Rnd 18: Purl.

Rnd 19: Knit.

Rnd 20: Purl.

*******This next section requires some attention. If done right, the openwork resembles small four-petal flowers. By the time you are done with this section, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish, with a minimum amount of effort and just a little (well, more than a little) concentration. I have discovered that if you double-wrap the second yarn-over, then drop the second wrap before decreasing in the next row, your little open- work flowers will be much lovelier. (This section edited as of 01/21/08)

Rnd 21: (Purl 2, knit 6, purl 2, knit 2) across.

Rnd 22: Knit 1, (purl 2, knit 4) across, end knit 3.

Rnd 23: Knit 2, (purl 2, knit 2, purl 2, knit 6)across, end knit 4.

Before working Rnd 24, slip first stitch of first needle onto last working needle.
Rnd 24: Knit 2, purl 4, knit 3, *(yarn over, slip one purl wise, knit two together, pass slipped stitch over, yarn over). Repeat from * across.

Rnd 25: *Knit 2, purl 4, knit 3, (yarn over, purl three together, yarn over). Repeat from * around. Remember to bring your yarn forward before making your yarn-overs, otherwise the openwork will not be even.

Before working Rnd 26, slip the last stitch of the last working needle onto first needle.
Rnd 26: Knit 2, (purl 2, knit 2, purl 2, knit 6) across, end purl 4.

Rnd 27: Knit 1, purl 2, (knit 4, purl 2) across, end knit 3.

Rnd 28: (Purl 2, knit 6, purl 2, knit 2) across.

Rnd 29: Purl 1,*(Knit 3, yarn over, slip one purl wise, knit two together, pass slipped stitch over, yarn over, knit 2), purl 4. Repeat from * across end purl 3.

Rnd 30:Purl 1, *(Knit 3, yarn over, purl 3 together, yarn over, knit 2),purl 4. Repeat from * around, end purl 3.

Rnd 31: ( Purl 2, knit 6, purl 2, knit 2) across.

Rnd 32: Knit 1, (purl 2, knit 4) across, end knit 3.

Rnd 33: knit 2,purl 2, knit 2, *(Purl 2, knit 6, purl 2, knit 2). Repeat from * across. End knit 4.

Repeat Rnds 24-33.

Repeat Rnds 24-27.


Repeat Rnds 1-19.

Turn work inside out (reverse work). This means that you will be working back over your last row, but proceed as before, working rows normally. You can wrap your yarn around the 1st stitch of the next needle before turning to keep from making a small hole here.

Knit 1 rnd.

*******You will now start the leg part of the stocking. The most difficult part of this stocking has been completed. Once the leg pattern has been established, this part is relatively easy. You will be working three different types of panel--seed (rice) stitch, and horizontal rib, separated by a smaller purl panel with center stitch worked as a garter stitch. Once you’ve done an inch you will know exactly what I am saying. The panels are obvious and the pattern becomes simple to follow.

Patt row 1: *knit 1, (purl 1, knit 1) 5 times; knit 1, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 2), knit 1; purl 11; knit 1, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 2), knit 1; repeat from * across.

Patt row 2: *knit 1, (purl 1, knit 1) 5 times; knit 1, purl 5, knit 1; purl 11; knit 1, purl 5, knit 1; repeat from * across.

Patt row 3: *purl 1, (knit 1, purl 1) 5 times; knit 1, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 2), knit 1; knit 11; knit 1, (purl 2, knit 1, purl 2), knit 1; repeat from * across.

Patt row 4: *purl 1, (knit 1, purl 1) 5 times; knit 1, purl 5, knit 1; knit 11; knit 1 purl 5, knit 1; repeat from * across.

Repeat these 4 rows throughout. Work in pattern as established until piece measures 8 ½ inches from beginning. Make calf shaping by decreasing in pairs on inside edge of large panel in back. Decrease every 4th row until panel is entirely reduced. Mark center stitch of back, either by marker or by keeping this stitch in garter for the rest of the leg. Keep decreasing in pairs every 4th row until the tow large panels on either side of the back panel have been reduced in half, thus forming
one large panel.

Keeping to pattern, work to length desired to heel. Remember the cuff folds over, so measure from the bottom of the cuff. 15 inches is a good modern length. If you want this to be a period reproduction, you should probably use a shaped common heel, keeping in pattern throughout. If your primary purpose is having a working sock, use your favorite heel shaping and keep bottom of stocking in stockinette stitch. You should be able to tell where to place your pattern panels in the period version by centering your large panel on the center back of the heel, and incorporating the extra stitches at the gussets into the large panels on either side of the edges of the instep. When the extra stitches are worked out, the panels should be the perfect size to continue the foot.

The original stocking looks to have been produced using round toe shaping. If you are doing a modern rendition, a wedge toed shaping is also appropriate. At this point, if you want matching garters, cast on 8-10 stitches and, using two needles, work in garter stitch for a length which will allow room to wrap around knee and tie. Happy Knitting!

Toledo Toe and Heel
If you worked the stocking according to the directions, you should have 97 stitches on your needles when you are ready to start the heel. At this point you divide your work into two sections: instep and heel. I found it easiest to work 45 stitches on the heel--this allows you to have a center back stitch down the heel, which serves as a marker for shaping. You can choose to mark this stitch, but make sure to know whether your marker is placed to the right or left of your center stitch. Or you can simply work the center stitch in garter on each row. Or you can choose to simply count to the middle each time you do a decrease row. At any rate, you will work these stitches in pattern until the heel flap measures about 2.5 inches.

Start shaping:
Work to 2 sts before center st of heel, k2tog, k1, SSK, work to end.
Work 1 row even.

Repeat these 2 rows until the large back panel and two small panels on either side of it merge into a single small panel. Now you will use this small panel as your 'center stitch' and continue decreasing, this time on either side of the small panel. Do this until all you have left is the 7 stitches of the center small panel. You have now made the heel cup. This looks amazingly like a banded heel, but borrows elements of the shaped common heel as well.

Right side facing you, pick up 28 stitches along heel flap, work instep stitches in pattern, pick up 28 stitches along other side of heel flap. Arrange the stitches comfortably on your needles and proceed to pattern the foot. Mark the center back stitch (which is now on the bottom of the foot. Work 6 stitches in the welt pattern (panel 3 on chart), small panel, moss stitch on 18 stitches, small panel, work across established pattern on instep stitches; when you reach the picked up stitches for the other side of the heel flap, work 18 stitches in the moss panel, small panel, and the remaining 5 stitches in the welt pattern.

Now you will decrease 1 stitch on the instep side of the large moss stitch panels (forming a gusset) which you created on the sides of the heel flap. Do this every other row until you have reduced the moss stitch panels to 11 stitches each. Work the foot in the established pattern until 2 inches less than the desired length of the foot (probably about 5 inches from where you picked up the stitches on the heel flap).

Work round toe shaping by decreasing 1 stitch at each side of the large panels every 4th row until they are completely reduced. Do the same for the small panels twice. Cut yarn and thread through remaining stitches on needles. Pull snug and finish off, weaving in the end of the cut yarn.

Sounds complicated, but makes a lot of sense when you actually see it done. Enjoy your stockings!

Friday, December 15, 2006


I'm wearing a pair of socks that I made!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

An attempt at explaining sources to someone on the Rialto

When you do research, you are looking at different levels of sources. The closer to the original, the better the source (allegedly) because it's closer to pure original.

A primary source is the object itself- a kimono verified as being dated to X for example- you look yourself at where the seams are, how they are sewn, feel the silk material and determine the weight and weft of it. You make your own understanding of what is a kimono from X by directly interacting with it. This is of course the ideal.

A secondary source is someone else telling you about their interactions with a primary source. Someone who is a curator of a museum for instance that has a lot of kimonos, not only from X, but Y and Z, and is willing to tell you (either directly via book or web page) the differences, construction techniques, etc. But they may not know something about these kimonos that is vital to you personally- like how the knot is tied at the end of the seam and are the ends of the thread tucked away, or did they use a loop start and sew the threads back in on themselves. Many describers of garb don't get that detailed, but if you want to make something as accurate as possible, you may want that detail. However, secondary sources are great compilers of data that you may not otherwise realize or have access to, so it's important to see a lot of secondary sources.

Tertiary sources read a lot of secondary sources and compile their own set of data to share based on other people's thoughts about the subject. All research papers tend to be this way by necessity. If you read the same bibliography, you may come to different conclusions than another person reading the same data. I read a lot of plumbing research. Some of the secondary and tertiary sources would rather write for the punchline than for the actual facts, and this makes figuring out which is true and which is twisted to fit the joke very difficult. If you read the whole bibliography about kimonos, and then explore to find old kimonos in garage sales or other cheap sales (I've bought bulk kimonos in buying silk by the pound from a Japanese dealer), and find that there is a flaw in that website's research, that's not a perfect source for your kimono information. Rather, you should take that other person's research and build on your information on the subject and go from there. See what you can find of museums, books, magazines, and even more websites.

Translations also add one more step to the distance between you and the original, because it's hard to have a perfect translation.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

George's Packing List

(pulled off a door where I have kept it taped up for convenient reference- hopefully someone will find this vaguely useful)

Have within easy reach in the car:
Pre-registration packet
ID and proof of SCA membership

Tent, poles, ropes & stakes, ground cloth, something to pound stakes with. (Do assemble tent at least once before Pennsic to make sure everything is still there).
Fly for tent/shade.
Disposable mat for door to wipe feet/store shoes.
Shovel. (trench around tent if rainy, sump pit regardless).
Stuff to sleep on. I have a platform bed now. Air mattress, sheets, blankets, or sleeping bag and pad. Air pump. Pillows.
Coleman lantern, battery powered lantern, flashlight, little tea light lanterns for outside tent to mark which one is my tent so I can find it.
Batteries for anything that needs batteries.
Spare mantles for the Coleman lantern.
Clothes. (spare set in ziplock bag left in truck for dire emergencies and one set of mundanes to go home in). Undies.
Extra Socks.
Court Garb.
Rain cloak.
Cloak for warmth (it can get cold at night).
Something to store garb on- if you have a way to hang it, that's great!
Shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hairbrush, hair ties, and all other toiletries including feminine necessaries.
Folding table.
water/drinks only cooler
water bottles.
Coleman stove, lighter.
Fire extinquisher
Pan for heating water.
Dishpan and dish soap. Sos pads.
Dish towels.
Large frying pan and sauce pan.
cutting board.
Mixing spoon, spatula, sharp knife.
extra silverware, extra coffee cups (expect company).
Drinking mugs, ideally with leash or other personalization.
Wine glasses, tasting glass.
cork screw, can opener.
Olive oil.
veggie peeler
eating dishes.
Dutch oven.
Ziplock bags.
Garbage bags.
First aid kit
Pepto bismol, Tums, Band-Aids, Tylenol, decongestant, and any other drug you could possibly want, including your prescription drugs. There is a fridge at Chirugeon point for refrigerated drugs if you really need it.
Phone card.
Camera, film.
Baldrics and other necessary insignia/uniforms.
Scroll case.
Extra cloth to cover unsightly things, or to use to carry things.
Shortwave radio for weather reports.
Any booze. Wine racks.
Needlepoint or other to-hand craft.
Notebook, pens.
Duct tape and clothespins.
Shield, Armor, weapons, rivits or other things for repair and maintennance of armor and weapons.
Authorization cards
Ace bandages and tiger balm.
Fighting boots
*COMFORTABLE* shoes, ideally two or more pairs, so if one is wet, you can change. Do not bring NEW shoes. Blisters suck at Pennsic.
Extra Socks.
Carrying baskets.
Gift baskets, if needed.
Extra ciggies if you smoke.
Banners and a way to hang them.
Small fans.
Toolkit: Screwdriver, pliers, cutters, files, hammer
Wagon or cart
grate to go over sump pit (scout the neighborhood for thrown out fridges and use the shelves).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Basics of Beer Making

Written for a brewery demo board and local newsletter article.

Malt is not a simple sugar. It is made of chains of sugars that must be broken down to be made accessible for the yeast’s consumption. The grains themselves must be malted. This is a process that involves allowing the grain to germinate, which starts the conversion process. Then the sprouted grain is malted by slow roasting, and the different ways of roasting can affect the flavor profiles. Most malt is then treated by more processes to turn into dry malt extract (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME), and these are what are most commonly purchased for the purposes of making beer at home. In the interest of not writing a book, I’m going to stick with simple methods and explanation. If you are interested in an in-depth read about the process, I suggest Dave Miller’s “The Complete Handbook of Home Brewing.” The best simple explanation in a book that I have seen is “Homebrewing for Dummies” which I highly recommend.

Beer has three other ingredients. Yeast, water, and hops. Yeast comes a wide variety of types that are designed to add characteristics of the style of beer for which they have been bred. Ale yeast are top fermenters. Lager yeast ferment on the bottom. Choose whichever will help make the style of beer you want. Water is important because strong tasting water won’t taste good in beer, and if it’s too high on the chlorine, you’ll poison the yeast.

Hops are the other major flavor component. Hops are used to add bitterness and aroma, so it smells like beer and not just bubbly bread. The other important thing about hops is it acts as a preservative. The yeast cannot eat all of the sugar in malt, so if the beer isn’t drunk immediately or steps aren’t taken, other things will try to grow in your beer. In medieval times, other items such as wormwood, dandelions, oak bark, and more to try to counter the sweetness of the malt. Beer was often more nutritious and safer than drinking much of the water of the time. Hops added early in the boil are the bittering hops- they add the bitterness and preservative. Hops added near the end of the boil are called finishing hops, and they add the aroma. Hops come in leaf (which is actually petal because hops are flowers), pellet, or plug. Hops also vary widely in flavor profiles.

To make beer, you will need a recipe that goes for a rough idea of the style you may want. You should try always to make something you want to drink. You will need a large pot, ideally a 5-gallon pot, or as close to that as you can get, for a 5-gallon batch of mead. I make-do with a 4-gallon pot and do what is called a partial boil- I only boil part of the water with all of the malt in it. What follows is how I make a standard, generic-type ale. I use 6 pounds of DME and 2 ounces of hops, and one of the ale liquid ale yeasts.

Bring to a boil 2 gallons of water. Carefully add the DME, set a timer for an hour, and keep stirring. Doing this with a friend is more fun, so you can take turns stirring. Your house will fill with a pervasive aroma of cooking malt. Be careful, because you want to keep this as near a boil as possible without letting it boil over and spill all over your stove. Many folks will get a turkey roaster kind of gas cooker and do this in the yard or deck or driveway, just to avoid the mess of a boil over (and it can do a 5-gallon pot more efficiently than your stove). It will have to boil for an hour. You will have to stir it enough to keep from sticking on the bottom.

At about the half hour mark, you will add the ounce of bittering hops. It can go in a small bag or just toss it in loose. If it’s loose, you will get more flavor as a property of more surface area.

At 5 minutes before the end of the boil, add the ounce of finishing hops. At this point, your house will positively smell like a brewery. I love the smell. Some folks do not.

Turn off the heat. Now you get to see how quickly you can cool the contents of the pot. What happens in the cooling process is another break in the starch chains to make the sugar accessible to the yeast. The faster the cooling, the more sugar gets accessible, and the happier your yeast will be. There are devices that can be used, but the simplest is dumping ice cubes in the pot (if there is room), and giving the pan and contents an ice bath in your sink, with constantly changing the water in the sink to more cold water. I use a double sink and fill one sink, shift the pot, empty and fill the other, shift the pot, repeat. Or if I do this in the winter, I head outside and put the pan in a snow bank. Be careful not to spill. Boiling wort is very HOT, obviously. When it is comfortable on your wrist or near room temperature, you are done with chilling.

You can now syphon or pour carefully into your 6.5-gallon carboy or primary bucket fermenter. I use a large funnel with a screen in it to filter out the hops. Then add enough water to reach the 5-gallon mark. Now you can add your yeast.

Cover the primary so that germs can’t get in but CO2 can get out. Leave it alone for a week to 10 days. I know, the waiting is the hardest part.

If you want a secondary, which helps the beer clear, you will want to syphon it from the primary to the secondary now. Then let it sit for two more weeks.

Now it’s time to bottle. Most people like their beer to have that satisfying pfsshh when they open the bottle and some sort of bubbling action when they pour it into a glass. To get this carbonation, you will need to give your yeast a little more sugar before you put it in the bottles. Too much sugar added at this point will cause the bottles to explode. Too little and the beer won’t carbonate. Corn sugar is what is most commonly recommended. You need ¾ cup of sugar for a 5-gallon batch of beer. You can boil 2 cups of water and then add the sugar, dissolve the sugar, and then let it cool. Pour this gently into your beer, and then syphon the beer into all of your cleaned and sterilized bottles. Cap with a capper, and label your beer. And again, you have to wait another 2 weeks or so before you can drink.

Again, all of these ingredients vary to make a wide variety of styles, so do seek out recipes and types of beer that suit your taste.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On Æthelmearc Awards

(written for the local newsletter)

Many folks have expressed confusion about the kingdom’s award system. I say kingdom, because most of the non-peerage awards vary between kingdoms. This article only deals with Æthelmearc’s awards, as I do not claim to understand any other kingdom as well as I do ours. All kingdom level awards are mentioned in the Order of Precedence, listed here: which is a listing of everyone in the kingdom who has ever received an award.

First, there is a difference between awards of Merit and awards of Distinction. Those of distinction do not convey arms, or rank. That means, if you get one of these awards, your name doesn’t change. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think you’re special.

These awards are:

Order of the Cornelian: given to honor courtesy. The token is a carnelian gemstone. Keran and Malcolum have been given this honor, for their poise and unending tact.

Order of the Sigil of Æthelmearc: given for service to the Crown. The token is the Æ (Aesch) of Æthelmearc. Briant and myself have attained this by retaining directly for Royalty.

Order of the Silver Buccle: given to outstanding children (age 14 and under). The token is a silver buckle.

Order of the Jewel of Æthelmearc: given to recognize those outstanding individuals who exemplify skill, courtesy, chivalry and service. The Crown may recognize only one new member per reign, and consults with the members of the order before bestowing the award. The newest member is presented with a escarbuncle set with a gem, dependent from a chain, which is passed on to the next recipient.

The Champion of Æthelmearc is the other finalist in the Crown Tournament. If the Crown Prince and Princess are unable to ascend the thrones, the Champion and his/her consort become the new Crown Prince and Princess. If the King and Queen are unable to complete their reign, the Champion becomes Regent.

Order of the Garnet (a principality order, now closed): given to former consorts of Æthelmearc, who displayed gentility, grace, statesmanship, courtesy and chivalry during their reign. Companions are styled "Lady of the Garnet." Their duties are to promote courtesy and chivalry, to be an example of proper etiquette, to give counsel to the Coronet, to devise quests to promote the ideals of the order, and to give tokens of favor to those who perform extremely courteous/chivalrous acts, or to those who are constantly courteous/chivalrous. They have the privilege to select a Champion of the Garnet, and to convene a council to advise the Coronet on matters of courtesy and honor. The token of the order is a garnet. The Ladies of the Garnet retain their rank and precedence and may aid the Order of the Rose.

The awards for minors include Silver Buccle, Silver Alce (for youth combat), Silver Sycamore (for A&S), and I'm not sure if there is a silver Keystone for service.

Now, on to the awards of Merit- the awards that convey rank, and get those fancy & confusing titles in front of your name. This is where most people get all confuzzled, and just avoid everyone with hats if they don’t understand it. There are three levels of these awards: Award of Arms (AoA), Grant of Arms (GoA), and Patent of Arms (PoA, also known as a peerage). There are four basic branches of these awards: service, arts and sciences, fighting skills, and holding land, the latter only applies to GoA and PoA awards.

Please note that everyone in the society is allowed to arrange with a Herald for that colorful banner thing to be uniquely yours. For convenience sake, most call it their arms. However, if you have not been awarded arms yet, it is more properly called a device.

Receiving an AoA allows one to be called Lord or Lady for a title. The sovereigns may simply hand out an AoA without an attached award of merit, and in fact, most people receive their AoA this way. The three Awards of Merit are:

Order of the Keystone: This is given for service to the kingdom, or to your local group. Autocratting, teaching, holders of local offices, dependable volunteers

Order of the Sycamore: This is given for arts and sciences. Demonstrations, competitions, performances, articles, scribal work

Order of the Golden Alce: This is given for martial activities. Known prowess and often willingness to teach in any of the martial fields, including heavy weapons, throwing weapons, fencing, archery, and even equestrian

Receiving a GoA allows one to be called the Honorable Lord, the Honorable Lady (both also known as THL), or to be referred to as her ladyship, or his lordship. While one could receive a naked GoA at the discretion of the Crown, it is usually attached to an Award of High Merit. These are also more confusing. These awards are polling orders: companions are invited to discuss who should be included in their ranks, and give their recommendations to Their Majesties.

Order of the Millrind: This is given for service to the kingdom. Regional officers, lesser kingdom officers, frequent volunteers for organizing Pennsic things, etc.

Order of the Fleur: This is given for Arts & Sciences. More teaching, articles, websites, performances, scribal work

Order of the Gage: This is only for heavy weapons. You may hear the occasional joke about cooking skill… as a lovely coincidence, many bearers of the award are also good cooks. But this is only for fighting prowess in armor.

Order of the White Scarf: This is for fencing skill only. It is the highest award one can achieve for fencing. Her Majesty is usually requested to join the Order as a courtesy. Also, the title Don and Dona is often used by members. They will also take Cadets to aid in their training, and these will wear blue scarves.

Order of the Scarlet Guard: This is for archery skill only. A large tassel is given, and usually no paper scroll, as many archers view paper as something to shoot.

Order of the White Horn: This is for “Other” martial activities. Thrown weapons, equestrian activities, and siege engines all fall in here.

The GoA is also the rank of Barons and Baronesses, which are also called Your Excellency. All baronies in the kingdom have landed barons and baroness to hold these lands, and may hold baronial Courts and give baronial awards as their lands allow and they see fit. But you’ve probably noticed there are more barons and baronesses running around in this kingdom than we do baronies. These are Court Barons or Court Baronesses. This award is given at Their Majesties’ discretion, and is usually given to landed barons and baronesses when they step down. It is also given to anyone that They wish to honor highly without giving an award of distinction. All barons and baronesses wear hats with 6 points or six pearls. Landed ones usually have their baronial colors or device on their hats.

And now, the peerage. When one is recognized as a peer by one of the Orders: Pelican is service, Laurel is arts and sciences, and Chivalry is for heavy weapons- one may choose to be called: Master, Mistress, Dame, Maestro, Don, Dona, or one of several translations of these. Sir is reserved for knights only, which means that person has been recognized by the Order of the Chivalry, and has chosen to swear fealty for every reign. None of these have special hats (except the laurel wreath).

Pelicans often have a pelican in its piety some where in their jewelry or garb to mark them. The pelican was believed in the middle ages to pierce its chest and feed its young, hence “in its piety” and the demonstration of the service pelicans give. They may take protégées to foster, and these are often marked by yellow belts.

Laurels wear laurel wreaths, given by the Greeks for many reasons including scholarship. They will often take apprentices, and these usually wear green belts.

Members of the Chivalry usually have white belts, gold chains, and spurs. If they decided not to become knights, and become Master of Arms instead, they will be called Master (often when they aren’t looking) and wear a white baldric or sash. They will take squires which wear red belts or baldrics. They or their squire can also take Men at Arms, but this is a more informal arrangement and is usually for a finite time.

The taking of a protégée, apprentice or squire usually happens in Court and with a formal agreement. The goal is for the peer to see that their protégée, apprentice, squire is suitable for the Order by providing training, recommendations, tasks, etc, and then sponsoring them when they are ready. It is a very serious thing and not a step to be taken lightly.

And now, the Royalty and former Royalty with yet more confusing titles, and their hats.

Before Æthelemearc was a kingdom, it was a principality of the East. Those who completed their reign of the principality achieve the title Viscount or Viscountess, and their hat has either one point or many.

Curently, Their Royal Majesties, or sometimes, Their Sylvan Majesties, are the king and queen. Their Heirs are Their Royal Highnesses, also known as the prince and princess. Occasionally, a set of Royals will translate these titles to their personae. Scribes often refer to the king and queen as Rex et Regina, which is the Latin form. Look for anything with escarbuncles. Silver usually means TRM, gold usually means TRH, but this is not set in stone, and is up to TRM to decide.

Once the reign is over, they are usually created Earl or Count and Countess. These hats are embattled. Think of offset blocks or the top of a castle battlement. These gentles are called Your Excellency. If they have reigned as king and queen more than once, they become Duke and Duchess and are hailed as Your Grace. These hats have four points, and strawberry leaves.

Of course to add to the hat confusion, one may always choose to wear a hat of a lower rank that they have earned, or none at all. If you cannot think of what to call someone, “my lady”, “my lord” or “Your Excellency” is a wonderful default. If you are wrong, they should politely correct you. And possibly, they may explain all of the above better than I can.

Here’s a simplified table of the ranking awards:
Service Arts and science Martial
(Lord, Lady)
Keystone Sycamore Alce
(lordship, ladyship, The Honorable Lord, The Honorable Lady, THL) Millrind Fleur Gage (heavy)White Scarf (fencing)Scarlet Guard
(archery)White Horn (other)
Landed Barons and Baronesses and Court Barons and Court Baronesses
Pelican Laurel Chivalry Royalty and former royals

The online Order of Precedence for the Kingdom is here:

The Æthelmearc webminister has posted a form on the web to make recommendations a lot easier to do.
Book mark it and use it often.

And I’d like to think it’s my fault they’ve added the “gender” to the form…

Things to include in any letter of recommendation:
1. Who. Mundane AND Scadian, spelled correctly. Verify with them or their friends.
2. What. What did they do that you think needs recognition? Lots of examples are great.
3. Which? Which award do you want them to have? Just the AOA? Or Knighthood?
4. When and Where - list at least one Royal Progress you are pretty sure they'll attend. Like Bards & Bows. Pennsic is usually a Bad place to suggest because so many other things happen that weekend. For me, this is always the hardest part!

Friday, February 03, 2006

I'm sorry

But I am removing all comments. I am not putting up with the spam suggesting this that and the other thing in a comment that's just an advert for something else. I know I don't update this site very often, and that's not likely to change any time soon, but I Will Not Tolerate this sort of spam. Please feel free to email me any comments you have about these articles- feedback is welcome!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On mead, the basics

Now is a great time to check out the local brew shop, if they are having any holiday sales. West Creek (when it was around) used to sell homebrewing starter kits for $50 or so, for either wine or beer. You want the wine starter kit for mead. This ought to be just the equipment. I know money is an issue (and isn't it for all of us!), so if there is such a bundle available on sale or discount for gift giving this year, you may want to consider jumping on it.

For a 5- gallon batch, you will need:
6.5 gallon carboy OR 7-gallon foodsafe bucket (mine is a kitchen trashcan that has ONLY been used for this purpose). This is your primary.
5-gallon carboy. This is your secondary.
Some way of stopping them that allows air to escape and no bugs in. Tin foil or cling film will work, but the ideal for the carboys is a bung with a bubbler.
Racking cane with syphon hose. This is how you get liquid from primary to secondary and into bottles.
Corking device. Rams corks into the wine bottles. Depending on how much money you spend, the easier it is to do- varies from cheapo you pound with a mallet to table mounted things that glide in with a pull of a lever.
Large cooking pot. I have 5-gallon pots but have used a 6-quart pan or a 2.5-gallon pot to start a batch of mead.
Spoon big enough to stir in such a big pot.
Something you can use to sterilize things. I use lots of boiling hot water and vodka, but I'm allergic to a lot of cleaning products.
Optional: Large funnel to dump stuff from pot into 6.5-gal carboy.

For each batch:
25 to 28 clean wine bottles
25 to 28 new corks.
something for a label. I suggest water-soluble glues so the labels come back off. Have used milk or cream instead of glue.
Ingredients! :)

For a one gallon batch, you can use a smaller bucket, like a one or a two-gallon foodsafe bucket. The important thing is that the bucket never contained toxic chemicals or nasty bacteria.
For your secondary, you will need a one gallon bottle.
And if you like, you can use another one-gallon bottle to bottle it in for drinking, because I know that first batch always goes way too fast. :) Or 4-5 wine bottles and 4-5 corks.
You will still need the racking cane with syphon hose, and a corking device for the wine bottles.

You will want to make what you like to drink, unless you really want to enter it for A&S and expect to win for documentation. I have a bibliography of books that I've seen if you like, so that you may read up on the subject. I divide mead into four categories, for convenience. Plain mead (honey + water + yeast = mead), fruit mead/wine, spiced mead, and braggot (which is between beer and mead). Yes, you can have a spiced fruit mead, but I suggest limiting how many ingredients. And yes, I can bring an example some time of too many fruits and spices in one wine- I call that batch Plonk, which is the sound your head makes if you have too much of it.

For plain mead, you want 3 to 5 pounds of honey per gallon. Yes, that's 15 to 25 pounds of honey for a 5-gallon batch. And because there is so little else in the mead, your honey flavor will affect the finished mead. I've used cheap Sam's Club honey, and I've used orange blossom from a home apiary. There is a difference. Heavy honeys like buckwheat should be avoided unless you really like those flavors.

For a spiced, you should use the same amount of honey in a plain mead. And then you can add whatever spices you like. Amount depends on when you add it (some people only spice the secondary which does affect the flavor- light spices like vanilla are better added to the secondary), and what shape the spice is when you add it. Flavor is leeched into the mead as a factor of surface area and time. The more surface area, the longer it's in the mead, the stronger the flavor. I do advise against powders because they are not always easy to get out of suspension and interfere with the clarity of your mead. A whole cinnamon stick is less flavor than the same stick that you've crushed with a hammer. Adding it to the primary is less time than adding it to the secondary. And, if you toss a stick into each bottle, the flavor will change depending on how long you let it age in the bottle. I also recommend limiting spices to a max of 5, with 1 to 3 being ideal. More than that and you will probably overwhelm your tastebuds. See Plonk, above.

For a fruit, you will have variety of flavor profiles depending on quantity of fruit and how fresh it is and the character of the fruit itself. It is possible to get two runs off the same fruit for different qualities of wine. Quantity of fruit will dictate quantity of honey needed- and it should total 5 pounds per gallon, max. If I had 4 pounds of strawberries, I'd want 1 pound of honey, per gallon. 3 pounds of peaches get 2 pounds of honey. 1 pound of bananas can have 4 pounds of honey, but I'd probably do 3. Two pounds of pumpkin need 2 or 3 pounds of honey. Thinking like this, you can make up a recipe for almost anything. I also have some odd books that have recipes like these. The other important thing that needs to be mentioned for fruit is pectinase. Pectin, if you have ever made jam, is what makes the fruit congeal to make those lovely clumps. Those lovely clumps in mead are scary-looking and not conducive to a jovial atmosphere. So you need to get pectinase from the brewshop and add that 24 hours before you add the yeast, following manufacturer's guidelines because it does differ by brand. Do not let fruit sit in the primary longer than 10 days. It will start to rot and/or start growing things you don't want in your booze. Botulism and mold are not flavors you want in mead. ALWAYS use the bucket for fruit. Getting fruit out of a 6.5 gal carboy sucks.

For a braggot, well, that all depends on how you like your beer and what you want out of a braggot. It's too intricate to gloss over. For the one batch I made, I used 6 pounds of dry malt extract and 8 pounds of honey and a champagne yeast.

Other: Besides the fruit/spices/malt and honey, you can also mess with the water. I have heard of people using maple tree sap and maple syrup for an awesome drink called Acermead. I have also used fruit juices instead of honey. The pomnegranate was devine, my apple cyser is reknown. And I have been given recipes for mountain dew mead and coffee mead, but I've never made these because I like to sleep off my hangover.

You will have to go to the brew shop (or online ordering- I love Williams Brewing) for wine yeast. My favorite yeasts are Champagne and Flor Sherry. I simply detest with all the passion for yeast I can muster Montrachet or "mead yeast" - I hate the flavor of that yeast. But whatever wine yeast you get, it's definitely NOT the same yeast that is sold in the grocery store for bread. These yeasts have been bred for different purposes and have different extra flavors called esters that they produce besides alcohol. I like to think of yeast urine as alcohol and the esters as yeast poo. Sometimes the poo enhances the flavor- sometimes it just tastes like poo. Bread yeast puts out a lot of poo with its pee, and that's a different flavor profile than a good wine. I recommend two packets of the dry yeast of your choice per 5-gallon batch. It's cheap. If you are opting for liquid yeast, more expensive, one packet is fine.

You can also make a yeast starter by dumping the packet in half a glass of orange juice, about half a day before you start the batch of mead. I also like to add yeast nutrient, which is vitamins for the yeast. Honey doesn't have a lot of vitamins the yeast can use, so sometimes it poops out early. The nutrient helps prevent this. In period, they may have added some bread crust to their mead for the same reason. Other additives people will add include tannin and citric acid or malic acid to get the pH balanced properly. I've frankly never noticed a difference in this, but I understand it can be more critcal for grape wines.

Because you can taste the difference in water, city water is often avoided.Sulpher water is always avoided. If your water tastes good to you, use it. Spring water is good. Filtered water is good. Distilled water is not that good because distilled water by its nature has no flavor. Some people will go as far as getting the water analyzed and try to make their water match certain profiles, like the water in X location at Y time. I'm more in the if the water tastes good, use it camp.

One gallon batch is assumed, because that's the easiest to do with what you probably already have already. And if you like what you make, then you may want to invest in the stuff needed to jump up to the 5-gallon batches. We'll go with a plain mead, because it's easier.
In a 6-quart pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Turn off the stove but don't remove pot from burner. Add honey. Rinse honey jars with more really hot water. Stir until honey dissolves. Cover and allow to cool. This liquid is now called "must." If it was a beer, it would be "wort." You can hurry the cooling down by filling the sink with cold water and ice and letting the pan cool in there. Or, in this weather, you can take the pot out on the back porch and put in a snow drift (probably not feasible in an apartment though). Once cool, pour into your primary. Room temperature-ish is ideal. Add yeast and maybe the nutrient, and cover with the tin foil or cling film. Pouring into the bucket is fine, as oxygen added to the water at this point is good. Make sure there is at least one whole gallon of liquid in your bucket.

Now the hard part. Ignore this for a week, except to see if there are bubbles within 24 hours on the top, and I mean a foam, not random one or two, and to make sure it stays covered. My cats like trying to knock covers off. Small children will do the same (have heard horror stories where small child added a germy favorite toy and ruined a batch).

In 7 to 10 days, use the racking cane to syphon from the bucket to the secondary bottle. There will be sludge in the bottom of the bucket that you do not want to transfer if possible, so you have to be careful with both ends. Certainly the first time you do this you will want someone to help you- one person per end of the syphon. One makes sure the end of the cane is above sludge and the other to make sure the other end stays in the bottle. You do want to avoid a lot of splashing from this point on, because most of the fermentation is done. The sludge is mostly yeast carcasses. From here on, oxygen can do bad things to the wine including lovely off flavors. Yes, you will leave some liquid behind that you can't syphon without getting sludge, but that really can't be helped. You can now clean the racking cane and cover the top of the secondary bottle.

Harder still is ignoring this bottle from 3 to 6 months. You may think it tastes great now. You probably can go ahead and drink it. But really, it won't hit its flavor peak for about 1 to 2 years. I have 15 carboys. I can keep batches going in rotation and always have stuff on the verge of ready to drink. Depending on the clarity in the 3 to 6 months, you may want to rack it again into another bottle the same size, making sure you avoid any sludge at the bottom, and let it sit again for another 3 to 6 months. It can stay in the carboy for years sometimes. And um, yes, I have stuff in carboys I haven't touched for more than 4. Mead takes time.

Bottling will depend on your corker in part. Some people will boil their corks to sanitize them first- I am lazy and don't bother. Clean the bottles thoroughly. Use your syphon again to syphon from the secondary to the bottles. Cork. Label. Store and/or drink.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. It's easier to watch someone doing these things instead of learning out of a book though.

Monday, November 21, 2005

On laundry- the start of looking

Inspired by this line in Sir John Harrington, "being too lazy to wipe should not be condemned, as surely any competent laundress can remove the stains from one's linen," I have sought the advise of one Mistress Rhiannon y Bwa, and she sent me the following to get me started on looking for things from there:

I am assuming that the speaker below is referring to the washing of linen, which is a subset of cleaning textiles. Wool and silk would be quite differently handled.

I would look into stain removal (I know Drea is working on this as a topic and might be at FF&F). However, I suspect that the main chemical cleaning used was 1. lye or 2. urine fermented until is smells of ammonia.

The main washing action was done by soaking in one of the above (diluted) solutions and then pounding on rocks and/or rubbing on flat boards. The washboard is pretty late, if I remember correctly, past our period. The pounding might accomplished with a bat. The procedure was dip, flop down, pound, rotate, pound, rotate, pound, redip, etc. Then wringing out. I think the multiple pounding and dipping is what removed the dirt. After that, it was bleaching. Accomplished by grass bleaching: lay items flat, keep them damp by sprinkling with plain water, repeat as necessary in sunny weather. This could take quite a while. I am old enough to remember laundering baby diapers of cotton. Even when washed with soap, the no. 2 deposits left a yellowish stain. This could be removed by hanging out in the sun for a while. We tried not to bleach them with clorox to save the baby's sensitive skin. In period, they didn't have the bleach we know today.

The lye was obtained from wood ashes, with water dribbled down thru it and collected. Hard on the hands.

Sometimes, I would not be surprised if nothing was used, just washed and pounded in a stream, etc. There are pixs of this activity. And some surviving grotto like rooms with stone ledges around a pool of water that have been used for centuries.

The clothes pin is another fascinating story. Most clothes were just hung on available objects or clothes bars. As for flattening and ironing, that was what my class was mostly about. Research the mangle (round wooden roller wrapped neatly with wet cloth, rolled back and forth by a flat paddle to squeeze out water and flatten the cloth.

I have to dig out the Markham again and look for things other than booze. :) And see what else I already have in household books, because now I am curious.

The Italian Guicciardini Quilt

There has been an update on the Italian Guicciardini quilt. It is going in for restoration - to France. Meanwhile, the local Italian needlework group is sponsoring a show of works inspired by the Guicciardini quilt (as they call it). Encouraged by an Italian contact, I sent them the information that I had gathered on the quilts and pictures of my replica. I asked for close up pictures so that I could count threads and stitches per inch and density of quilting, and how the original was bound. I am waiting for answers, and hoping I get some.

Meanwhile, here is the information that the Italian club has gathered on the quilt, kindly translated by them into English:

The Guicciardini bed cover is a quilt made of three layers of ecru material sewn together with figures, plants and writing. The top layer is lightweight linen; the bottom layer is an unevenly woven material and the batting is crude cotton.

The figures, plants and the script of the old Sicilian dialect which decorate the quilt are outlined by a beige thread. Where there are no figures, the quilting has been executed in a cream colored thread with tiny stitches.

The top layer of the bedcover was made by sewing together, in a vertical direction, three long strips of linen measuring a total of cm. 247 x 207. The different qualities of the stitching suggest that the work was executed by more than one person.

It seems that the narration is the story of Tristan, grandson or nephew of King Mark of England who was battling with the Irish, but the coat of arms on the shield of the horseman in the center of the quilt is that of Count Guicciardini. Often noble families adopted heroic or legendary figures to impersonate their own house and probably for this reason the story of Tristan was used to incarnate a noble Guicciardini.

The quilt was found in the Guicciardini villa of Usella (near Prato) at the end of the 19th century by the Countess Maddalena and was then sold in 1927 to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello of Florence, probably with the hope of insuring the conservation of the quilt and the promotion of research by scholars.

If the coat of arms on the shield of the central horseman is of the Guicciardini family, then it has been suggested that the shield of the horseman facing him depicts the Acciaiuoli family. In the past it was believed that the bed cover (together with a similar one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) was commissioned to celebrate the union of the two noble families at the time of the wedding of Pier di Luigi Guicciardini with Lauamia Acciaiuoli in 1395. Laudamia died giving birth to their son Jacopo on 1397 and for this reason it is possible that the bed covers remained in the house of the Guicciardini family, even thought they were part of the personal corredo of Laudamia and after her death were never used again. It would be interesting to know what else was in the trunk in which these two quilts were found.

It was the custom of the times, in the event of the union of two families, to commission objects that carried the coat of arms of both families. However at this time studies are underway to establish the certainty of the second coat of arms, as it is not sure that it belongs to the Acciaiuoli. It is hoped that these studies bring to light this and other secrets that are possibly hidden in the quilt.

We have spoken of a second quilt in the Victoria and Albert Museum that is similar to the one in the Bargello if Florence only it is larger. This second quilt was also sold by the Guicciardini family probably with the same scope of conservation and study.

The two quilts describe the same story and they both carry the same coats of arms. They were both executed, probably in Sicily, in the same workshop using the same techniques and work methods.

The episodes depicted describe the tragic story of Tristano and Isotta, who after loving each other unfortunately drank the same poisoned love portion.

It should not surprise us that the Sicilian craftsmen of the 14th century could be inspired by a legend from such a distant land because the story of this famous love tragedy was known all over the known world and in Sicily it was sung by the minstrels, told by the story tellers and acted out by the puppeteers even in the 19th century. The scenes that appear on the Florentine quilt show episodes of battles of Tristan.

According to the legend it seems that on the tomb of Tristan and Isotta there were planted ivy and grapevines and on the quilt we find these same vines as decorative elements quilted in among the other decorative plants and flowers.

Until now there has not been much written about this quilt and also these notes are only an anticipation of what we hope the studies will reveal. It is hoped that together with the Lostra di Arte Tessile, to which this quilt is dedicated, that the scholarly studies will reveal many of the secrets of the planning and execution of the quilt. Keeping in mind that this quilt is one of the oldest known and certainly on of the best preserved in the western world.

It is hoped also that the secrets revealed by this study will permit the club Punto in Croce to made a copy of the Guicciardini quilt and the donate it to the Museum Nazionale del Bargello and that by making this copy the methods of planning and sewing in the 14th century will be better understood and will serve to encourage further studies.

Club del Punto in Croce - c.p. 1542 - Firenze tel 055 2345257 -

So I am excited to learn more about the show and the quilt. They did invite me to send on Rurik's quilt, but as it is Rurik's now, and not mine, I cannot comment on if I will do so or not. I have asked how to get a copy of the thesis on the quilt, as there is a doctoral candidate researching the piece right now, and hopefully we will have answers from her, if I can get my hands on a copy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

More scrolls I have done/helped with

This one is all my own. This P gets used rather a lot, I'm afraid- about once a year. I try different golds and silvers with it every time.

This one is painted by THL Keran Roslin, a frequent partner in crime. It's a peroid font, but fussy and pretty. Keran is getting better with her detailed work.

This one was a partner to the one just above.
Also painted by THL Keran.

This is another painted by THL Keran. Um, I probably ought to write down her sources and put them here too, but I didn't. Mea Cupla. She does do a lot of scrolls inspired by, but she does have the books for sources.

This lovely Millrind was painted by Lady Marija of Kotok. Try to ignore my horrible floor in the background.

This one I am very proud of. It is my first attempt at drawing on Vellum. The book this is from is the Mira Caligraphae, and yes, finished, it's about 5 inches by 6 inches. I did expirament with pens to see which would work best. The left side is a crow quill, which DOES get a finer line. The bottom is a Pigma Micron. The right side and top are Staedler pens. I found I do have finer control with the crow quill and can get much finer lines. However, one does have to be patient with it and wash the pen every time the ink dries. The calligraphy nib was a drawing nib slightly wider than the crow quill, but definitely smaller than my C-6 nib. That's size 11 point font, and the first time I've written that small with a dip pen. I'm delighted at how it came out. A more washed out/closer shot.

The scroll words were my own. I do prefer to let other people write the words, whenever possible. And yes, to state the obvious, all calligraphy is mine.

Edited: The above links don't work. However, here is the last scroll:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Black and White Illumination resources

I get asked most about where to find appropriate images. I know it was the question I first asked when I went looking for them. I have since found a few books dedicated solely to prints or drawings, but at first I had to look through my regular illumination books. I have the standards like "Painted Prayers" and "Illuminated Manuscripts." Painted Prayers particularly has a few- these are usually smaller than the originals. Branching out to histories of the book, there are often a few woodcut prints that work nicely. I got one out of the library called "History of the Book" and it had several. I also acquired a book about Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks which had several nice charcoal/crayon drawings. And any book about Albrecht Duhrer will have the same. I have learned to look for catalogs of manuscript collections- they may not be in color, so they may decide to show pics of the black and white art. I have also found a couple of needlework books that have line drawn patterns on which needlework patterns were based.

Here are a few books:
"Six Centuries of Master Prins: Treasures from the Herbert Greer French Collection" Cincinnati Art Museum. 1993. ISBN 0-931537-15-0

"Gravures sur Bois: Illustrations de la Renaissance Florentine" L'Adventurine, Paris, 1996. (no ISBN)

Vecello, Cesare. "Costumes Anciens" Les Editions du Carrousel. L'Adventurine, Paris, 1999. ISBN 2-7456-0234-9

These latter two have lovely frames, and some of the pictures themselves are nice.

Swain, Margaret. "The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots" ISBN: 0896762483 has the drawings as well as needlework. Includes a pelican.

Beck, Thomasina. "Gardening with Silk and Gold: A History of Gardens in Embroidery" David & Charles, 2002. ISBN 0715313665

Georg Bocskay, Lee Hendrix, Thea Vignau-Wilberg. "Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta: A Sixteenth-Century Calligraphic Manuscript" J. Paul Getty Trust Publications; Boxed edition (August, 1992) ISBN: 089236212X
If you can afford that, get it. Not only does it have some frames, it is an ultimate example of what you can do with just calligraphy to astonish.

Also look for fascimiles of block printed books, such as:
Colonna, Francesco. "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream" translated by Joscelyn Godwin. Thames and Hudson 1999. ISBN 0-500-01942-8 (Original date roughly 1499).

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Rurik's Ducal Scroll, or the 1390 Quilt

The finished quilt, sans signatures of Their Majesties.

When I first saw the original in the book Medieval Craftsman series Embroiders, I knew I wanted to make this for a scroll. This is one panel from a huge quilt, which is part of a set made for the Guicciardini family in 1390/1395/1398 (depending on the reference) in Sicily. It was a wholecloth linen quilt embroidered with linen floss with pictoral scenes from the Tristram and Isolde series from the King Arthur tales. The other is in the Bargello Museum in Florence, and is not in as good of shape. There is a third that is very similar from the same time period (same technique and theme, but pictorially different) that is held by a private collector in Spain. The figures and letters are stuffed - the plain areas are heavily quilted without batting.

I contacted THL Maria P. and she sold me linen and floss and linen thread. I chose off white fabric, mainly because I knew I would dirty it over the several months I would work on it, and that’s nicer than pure white to get clean. The picture in Embroiderers was black and white, and the original looked white. The descriptions I found in my research suggested “brown” and “light brown” as floss colors with the darker brown for “more important elements”, but I could not find a color picture until I was almost done. So I went with two colors that Maria had a lot of, so I could buy them in one lot. Weight of linen was chosen on what felt like it would be an easy weight to work, and not with consideration to proper threads per inch of what is there- again because I could not get a good close up detailed photo of the piece. Descriptions of quilting at that time and of that piece and particular tended to favor the wording “cotton wool” for the stuffing, so I took that to mean wool was the material used, unspun but carded. Dame Aoife Finn was kind enough to provide me with the wool I did use, though others did offer wool as well. I will confess to allowing myself one cheat in the piece in that I used pre-made wool batting for the figures, as it made it much easier to have uniform stuffing, and I may start using wool batting more often for my mundane quilts! It is simply a joy to use.

Here's the supplies gathered.

To create the pattern, I took the inset picture of just this scene from the Embroiders book, as it was the largest version of the picture I had in the 4 books or so I found pictures of it.

I took it and expanded it to about 36 by 29 incheswhich is close to the original size of that fragment of the original. I traced this with tracing paper (Colin helped) and altered the original at this stage. The original translates from the Sicilian from "How Tristram smote Arnold." It now says, "How Rurik won a crown for his Angelik" - the other alterations I made to the original pattern include the simplified heraldry on the shields- as Rurik's device includes three dogs, and the opponent he defeated had bunnies on his shield. I added a small dangling frog to the lower right to sign the piece. Then I conned my local needlework shop to let me tape the pattern to their front window and then tape the fabric over that, so that I could draw the pattern onto the fabric with a chalk pencil. It took me about 2 hours to finish just that part. I did not feel like like stretching out a frame and using a candle underneath for a period light box, and my own modern light box is much too small to do the piece easily.

I read here of someone’s visit to the Bargello museum and their visit to one of the sister quilts, and they were permitted to view the back. There was no cutting and repair of the stuffed bits on the back or the front, as is commonly done in Trapunto. I thought over my options of how one could stuff such a piece, and I opted for what I felt was the easiest. I chose to do the embroidery first, and as I embroidered an area, I stuffed it, then sealing in the area of stuffing by finishing the embroidery of that part.

One must work from the center out, so the first bits done were letters in “HIS”. Because the original didn’t have a messy back or obvious knots, I realized I would have to do loop starts and weave in the ends. Normally, I just go ahead and leave the back messy on embroidery. In this case, I’d have to do it the neat way. So everything has been done with loop starts and attempts to hide the loose ends. Particularly if it was to be used as a quilt, and not just as a wall hanging, it would look better with a neat back.

Here it is with just the embroidery.

I could not find a detailed enough picture to determine quilting patterns, just a descriptive of closely quilted in rows. So I did that, and chose direction based on ease at the time of working. The one book that was rumored to have a close up pic, Valerie Harding’s Faces and Figures in Embroidery, upon examination, I determined that this close up pic was of someone else’s copy of the piece, as there were details that did not match the original. Quilting direction can be very difficult to determine from a photograph, particularly any variation of stippling, because if the stitches are out of sync or in sync, one will have a different pattern of raised bumps appear on the fabric, even if the rows of stitching are along the same line. No picture I found showed more detail than just some of the bumps.

The embroidered words of the scroll appear at the base, below the frame. They are not a part of the original at all. But I did work them in backstitch to keep the style harmonious.

The edges were finished by tucking raw edges in and sewing it shut with a whip stitch. There is no evidence of which I am aware of any other form of binding for quilts at this time, and again, I could not find detailed pictures of an edge, nor did I ever see a picture of the back. The other alteration from the original when it is completed included a sleeve for hanging.

The real artist caught at work.

Calligraphy samples

After finishing the 1390 quilt, I went on a calligraphy binge- which I am still on. I have connected with a lovely lady in West Virginia who sends me things to calligraph, and I am enjoying doing that.

Here's a few backlogs, blanks and other things I've been doing. Simple line art is my work. Paintings are the work of Lady Marija of Kotok.










This is for all those people who nag me about never saving copies of my work. I do recommend it to other people, so you may see how far you have come in your body of work. Webbing it inspires other people to try different styles.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Quilt bibiliography

Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d. Maney, London. 1988.

Bridgeman, Harriet and Drury Elizabeth. Needlework: An Illustrated History.
Paddington Press, LTD., NY 1978

Colby, Averil. Quilting. Anchor Press, Essex 1972. ISBN 0 7134 2665 9

Flynn, John. John Flynn's Step-by-Step trapunto and Stippling. Flynn Quilt Frame Company, Billings, Montana, 1992. ISBN: 0-9627889-2-9

Harding, Valerie. Faces and Figures in Embroidery. Branford, 1979.

Lady Caitlin nic Raighne. Historical Quilting. Ipsley House 2002

Levey, Santina. Elizabethan Treasures: The Hardwick Hall Textiles. Abrams. 1998.

Loomis, Roger and Laura A. Arthurian Legends in Medieval Art

Schutte, Marie and Sigrid Muller-Christiansen. A Pictorial History of Embroidery. Frederick A Pareger, NY.

Swift, Gay. The Batsford Encyclopedia of Embroidery Techniques. Batsford, London. 1990.

Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsman: Emboiderers. University of Toronto Press 1991.

Symonds, Mary and Preece, Louisa. Needlework Through the Ages. Hoddler and Stoughton, Ltd., London 1928

von Gwinner, Schnuppe. History of the Patchwork Quilt. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. West Chester PA 1988. ISBN: 0-88740-136-8 (description of the other pictorial) (using the 1390 and other quilts as inspiration for period bedding- other quilted research) (Collection of articles on quilting) (an amusing place to start)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Pre-1600 Waste Management Pape

(Note: I have removed the footnotes and pictures from this article. Please email me if you have questions.)

Because You Are Wondering Why

I blame family tradition on my interest in this topic. When I was a young girl, my father would pile us up in the van and go for Sunday drives with us in the country. It was our job to stare out the window and yell if we spotted a privy. When we spotted a little house out in back of the barn or old farmhouse, we’d pull over, and Da would get the camera to go take pictures. Sometimes the owner would come out and talk to us, and sometimes one of us would pose shyly holding the door open. Of course if the thing was actually still used, we wouldn’t go anywhere near it because of the smell. Most were falling apart, and a few were converted to tool sheds. My father took all of the pictures and used them to update a humorous slide show that he inherited from his father. Da is still occasionally offering this slideshow to various civic organizations for the entertainment value. Researching this topic was moderately easy- all I had to do was raid the family library. Unfortunately, my father’s books were primarily focused on the Americana aspects that do not fall within the pervue of our period, and my grandfather’s texts were focused more upon the humor inspired by the necessary. Therefore I did get to research more than my predecessors, and I’ve been sharing all of these gems with my father. It also makes me wish I’d known my grandfather better, as he surely would have appreciated this effort. “To the historian,” says Siegried Giedion, “there are no banal things.”

In the beginning

The earliest written sanitation laws of which I am aware appear in the Bible, in Deuteronomy 23:12-14: “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you and turn away from you.” The city of Jerusalem had a Dung Gate, and outside of that was an area called gehenna or no man’s land where the dung was left. Gehenna was also interpreted as Hell in Hebrew, and there is some speculation that this is what was meant when Jesus went to Hell to speak with Satan.

The palace of Knossos, Crete

Much has been said of the marvelous flushing toilets at the palace, mostly by folks enthusiastic about the idea of flushing toilets being period. Frankly, if we were confronted with these innovative toilets that we would recognize them as flushies, and probably be surprised by the smell- albeit these are probably sweeter smelling than other arrangements of the time. The palace at Knossos in Minos around 2000 BC had a drainage system made from terra cotta pipes that drained into sewers. The pipes had handles not for ease of handling, but so they could be lashed together and not move out of place (See fig. 1).

Each quarter of the palace had its own drainage system, which were flushed by torrential rainwater collected from the roof. The Minoans evidently delighted in hydraulic devices, and used such refinements of the science as parabolic curves in the water channels to control to water pressures and flow, and planned for the precipitation of sediment in intermediary catch pits.

Fig 1. Terra cotta pipes in the palace at Knossos and how they fit together.

Figure 2 is a layout of one of the latrines on the ground floor of Knossos. It is fairly obvious that there should be a wooden seat, and there is a drain that is flushed by the rainwater. There is some thought that there should be an earthenware pan, with a way of flushing it from above.

Even without the pan and flushing from above, these were kept clean enough to minimize smell and remarkably hygienic.

Fig. 2 Layout of latrine in Knossos.

Closed sewers in the Indus Valley

In the ancient cities of the Indus valley, flourishing from about 2500 to 1500 BC, many houses had drains that led to closed sewers. These led to pits that needed to be periodically emptied. Each house’s wastewater went into the street drains by way of brick lined pits with outlets about ¾ of the way up, rather like modern septic tanks and grit chambers. Some earthenware pipes, latrines, and masonry sewers of some Mesopotamian cities from 1500 BC are still in use today.

Fig. 3 An early closed sewer at Mohenjo-Daro with stone slab covers.

The Egyptians found the easiest way to get rid of unwanted articles was to carry them to the edge of the desert and abandon things there. The dry heat desiccated anything fairly rapidly. While there were bathrooms in most households, the focus was mainly as a place to bathe. The bather sat in a shallow stone basin, oils were poured on, and then rinsed with water. These would drain into vases that would be manually emptied later. A limestone seat was braced over another vase for taking one’s ease, and this vase also was emptied later. In one example, there were a couple of hollows beside the seat that may have held clean sand for wiping.

Egyptians did use piping from cisterns and from the river, either made with copper (which could not take the pressure to go far), or earthenware. Trenches were stone-carved or brick-lined in the middle of the street to help with drainage, but were not clogged with personal filth. Herodotus thought the Egyptians strange for performing the offices of nature at home, while eating publicly in the streets, but perhaps that tells us more about what the Greeks did in their own lives. While the great philosophers did ponder Utopias, none of them considered alternatives to the filth in their streets.

Fig. 4 Egyptian limestone seat, 1370 BC, in Tel el Armana

All Roads Lead to Rome, All Sewers in Rome Lead to the Cloaca Maxima

The great sewer, the Cloaca Maxima was built in Rome around 500 BC, by the king Tarquinius Sperbus (and later expanded by the king Commodius around 180 AD). This brick-lined covered sewer disgorged into the Tiber and was large enough to take a rowboat along its length to inspect it thoroughly, as Agrippa did when he was aedile in 33 BC. There were seven branches- one for each hill- and rich customers had to pay to be connected to the sewer. At least one connection would be near the kitchen for refuse and convenience, but as these sewers were not vented, the gas could easily come up the pipe whenever the lid was opened. These sewers were also used to drain the streets during rainstorms, and rainwater was the main source of cleansing both streets and sewers. Parts of the Cloaca Maxima are still in use today.

Pliny reports that these sewers were mainly constructed through slave and convict labor, and the shame was so great at being forced to work on the construction was so great, the order was given that all suicides were to be crucified and left on display with no burial permitted. This was deterrent enough to get the job finished. Convicts were also used to keep the sewers clean and unclogged. Enterprising merchants outside their shops left vases called “gastra” on sidewalks. Everyone used these as public urinals. The collected urine was sold to dyers and tanners and other merchants, as human urine is effective at removing grease and as a mordant and cheap dye, with the main active ingredient of ammonia. The emperor Vespasian was inspired by these merchants to build several public latrines. A trench around the middle collected urine, which was sold to merchants who could use it, and the rest was connected to the sewer. These latrines offered no privacy at all, and often men could gather in them and socialize, as they socialized in the public baths. Buckets of seawater would hold sticks with pieces of sponge tied to them, which were used for wiping.

Fig. 5 Examples of Roman latrines.

The poorer folks who could not afford to be connected to the sewer system used jars in their rooms, which were then emptied into public cesspits. Every night, city-paid workers would empty the cesspits, and cart the contents out of town in wagons to be used as fertilizer. Those who could not afford a pot or to pay a fee for entry to the public latrines would use the street or a staircase landing.

The Roman goddess of the sewer was Cloacina. She received prayers for the smooth running of one’s personal drainage systems as well as the preservation and hygiene of the public drainage systems. Stercutius was the god of dung itself and of its myriad uses. Crepitus was the god of convenience and flatulence- he received special prayers when afflicted with the runs.

Sir John Harrington recommended the emperor Vespasion to be deified with the name “Urinatius or Urina, as god of the uses of urine and means to make money from it, as Stercutius is of soyle.”

At Home, in the Middle Ages

The Roman tradition of public latrines continued, just as the public baths did for quite a while after the empire fell. The Church denounced bathing as sinful, and embraced filth as an outward display of penance. One saint was canonized for not bathing in her lifetime, as she did not wish to wash off the holy water received at her baptism. These public latrines were connected to public sewers, had a cesspit that must be emptied, or were conveniently located near running water so they could empty directly into the stream or river. London Bridge, for example, had a public latrine that serviced the 138 houses on the bridge, and was large enough to have two doors as one person managed to escape his creditors by slipping out another door. The private homes on the bridge also sometimes had their own direct chute to the river, making it a hazardous enterprise to “shoot the bridge.” Indeed, it was often said of London Bridge, “Wise folk go over it, and only fools go under it.” Several homes would have private cesspits, and some would share facilities. Sometimes, a narrow bridge would have a wooden seat with a hole in it would connect two houses over a yard, over an open cesspit, over a stream, or even over an alleyway. The cesspits would need be emptied on a regular basis, and this job was held by the gangfermours. This was possibly the best-paid menial job available. They would empty the cesspits into large jars that would be carted out of town, where the nightsoil was sold to farmers as fertilizer. Gangfermours would also maintain the sewers and cleaned the streets. Unfortunately, using a stream to cart off the sewage didn’t always work- occasionally the stream became overwhelmed. In the 14th century, Fleet River, so named because it was originally a fast moving stream, became so clogged with three sewers and twelve public latrines emptying into it that the stream was eventually paved and became Fleet Street. (of course, that may explain the nature of some of the journalism yonder... just kidding. Fortunately no one drank from the Thames or other streams so used- water was piped in from outlying areas.

Fig. 6. An example of a bridge privy connecting two houses over an open cesspit.

Private jugs were still used within the home, and dumped out of the window with the cry of “Guardez-l’eau!” which is probably where the word loo came from. Laws did state when these offerings could be lobbed, and heavy fines were imposed on those who emptied their jugs out of hours or landed on those travelers unlucky enough to be walking below. It is possible that the etiquette of men walking on the streetside of their ladies as they walk on the sidewalk comes from the fact that the inside pedestrian would be protected by the building overhang, but equally probably that this would protect the lady from the cart traffic and splashed stuff from the roadway.

Privacy while using the necessary did not begin to be popular until the 16th century, when homes began to be built with small chambers where one could go in solitude. Euphemisms were as popular then as they are now, so these chambers would be referred to as “the house of honor”, “the chapel”, and the “closet.” Wright even suggests that most “priest-holes” are in fact examples of these private rooms, and because they were referred to as the “chapel” or other similar name in record, they were misinterpreted as places where catholics were hidden. Sometimes they would be the traditional seat over a cesspit, but for the rich, a new fashion was the close-stool as furniture in the room.

Close-stools were wooden boxes, sometimes built as cabinets, sometimes disguised as a stack of books, and even as a dresser. Traveling versions had locks and handles, so only the owner could use them. The top was a lid that could be lifted to reveal a comfortable seat with an appropriate hole for the owner to be comfortable. These were often covered in velvet and stuffed with down. Inside was a typical jug that could be removed and emptied by servants. The outside of the close-stool could also be covered in luxurious fabric and trimmed in lace and gilt nails. Sir John Harrington railed against using the velvet and expensive items “which is flat against the statute of aparell.” These close-stools were also draped in black for mourning when the user passed on.

Fig. 7. This close-stool is on display in Hampton Court, and is rumored to have been used both by Elizabeth I and James I. There’s a nice large lock on the front, and the seat is well padded. While not obvious in this print, there are carrying handles on the sides, so the possessor could take this necessary with them on Royal Progresses.

On Garderobes

While privies (or private rooms for the use of the necessary) were also called garderobes because of the euphemistic vernacular- it would be like referring to the cloakroom today – I tend to associate garderobes as those structures built into the stone walls of castles. These were important features, as one could not casually slip out to the house out back if one’s castle was under siege. Occasionally castles were built over a stream, which offered the benefit of clean water coming in, and sewage drainage coming out. However these streams were often a weak point in the castle’s defense and many an invading army crept in by wading the stream. When the stream was diverted to go around the castle either in part or surrounding like a moat, garderobes were usually built with a chute that drained out into the moat. Care had to be taken so that the chutes were high enough so that invaders would not crawl inside. Also, multiple storied garderobes would share the same exterior chute, for the convenience of crafting, and to serve many at once. If the walls were thin, garderobes sometimes were built jutting out of the wall like bay windows, and the hole would be directly over thin air. And occasionally, the garderobe would simply fill up a space between the walls, and then be plugged when full. Obviously, if the wind blew up the chute, the garderobe could be quite drafty, and is sometimes referred to as a “draught.” Garderobes were often built into the sides of chimneys for warmth, and as an aid to draw the smell up the chimney and away from the user.

Fig. 8. Garderobes stacked in multi-stories, with many side by side. Note how the upper layer is recessed further back, so there is plenty of room for the chute, and no chance of spray on the lower denizens.

Fig. 9. A garderobe with a place for a wooden seat in the White Tower in London, off the banquet hall. Henry VIII installed this for privacy.

When I visited Britain in 1990, I was privileged to visit Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland. In the tower still standing, I found a cracked seat that was in an alcove that jutted out over the water. I believe it to be a garderobe used by the patrolling guards. Any waste would fall into the loch below. I also visited Warwick Castle, and I’m not sure where I was in the curtain wall between the armory and the courtyard, but I passed two cubicles that were marked as “privies”. One had its seat plugged entirely, and the other had a fine grate to discourage anyone from putting anything down it. These were both wide enough to comfortably move around in, as wide as the average public stall today. The seats were recessed in about a foot from the hallway, and there was about a foot of stone wall between them. There did not appear to be any mechanism for covering them for privacy, and there were no windows for light, although there was a small window in the hall. The seats were stone with a typical size hole cut inside.

Fig. 10. Typical inside view of a stone garderobe, and a typical outside view of a chute.p>

Life in Monasteries

Because the Rules that described cloistered life were strict in dictating each movement of the monks, they did everything together at the same time, including using the lavatory. Consequentially, we have surviving records of huge latrines established to seat 150 monks at once or more. In many monasteries, the “reredorter” or sanitary wing was linked to the dormitory by a bridge, serving as the equivalent of the ventilated lobby of modern bylaws. At Furness, the seats were ranged back to back in a double row, but usually they were set against the wall in one long single row and divided with partitions. Below would be a natural stream, or perhaps diverted, to carry away the filth produced. These streams were often made to run under the kitchen and infirmary as well, and were often covered for some distance. It is possible that hidden passages leading to monasteries may be in fact dried up streambeds or former sewers. Water flushing from above was incredibly rare, but at St. Albans, the Abbott built a stone cistern to store rainwater for this purpose serving a single necessary for his own use. Of excavations in St. Albans in 1927, they did find a deep pit. At the bottom were found pieces of pottery and fragments of coarse cloth, which is thought to have been old gowns torn up and used as toilet paper by the monks. It is likely that that the monks suffered digestive troubles, as proved by the finding of seeds of buckthorn- a powerful aperient.

Other Wiping Options

Sir John Harrington, in his defense of his book, describes more offensive texts than his. In particular, he describes one text that I would love to find other descriptions of or extant: “a beastlie treatise only to examine what is the fittest thing to wype withal, allegeding that white paper is too smooth, brown paper too rough, woolen cloth too stiffe, linen cloth too hollow, satten too slippery, taffeta too thin, velvet too thick, or perhaps too costlie; but he concludes, that a goose necke to be drawne between the legs against the feathers, is the most delicate and cleaning thing that may be.” Later in his text, he offers up the pages of his text for that same use if the reader still finds the information within to be offensive. That would be “the worst punishment it can have is but to employ it in the house it shall treat off.” Therefore, I assume that many texts printed in the late 16th century were used just like the Sears catalog in the early/mid 20th century. Sir John also comments that being too lazy to wipe should not be condemned, as surely any competent laundress can remove the stains from one’s linen. Therefore what one uses to wipe is largely irrelevant.p>

The Man Before His Time

As early as 1449, one Thomas Brightfield of the parish of St. Martin built some kind of water closet, flushed by piped water from a cistern, but this was much before its time and was never imitated.

The Reason We Call Them Johns

In 1596, Sir John Harrington, one of the Queen’s godsons, wrote a book called “A New Discourse on a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax.” He did receive a great deal of criticism for writing about such a topic, and ridicule for his invention, which the treatise describes in full. Eventually, the Queen did have one installed in her palace in Southampton, and there is some debate as to whether or not she actually used the thing.

Harrington tells the story behind the title in a rambling way. One young man, needing more material to wipe himself, requested that a certain sacred field be mowed for his ease. This field was sacred to Ajax, for in the Trojan War, he was insulted and humiliated by Ulysses, which sent him off in a fit of anger to this field. He slew everything in it, and them himself, and from the blood spilled grew luxurious grasses reserved to feed the descendants of Bucephalous. The young man was caused by pains to travel around the world seeking relief, and even went as far as Japan, and back home again. Once home, he built a splendid privy and dedicated it to Ajax, which is why some still call it a jakes today.

Before Harrington gets to the meat of the matter, he explains that he prefers to dwell within a sweet smelling house- meaning that one which lacks overwhelming odor. “For smoking chimnies, many remedies have bene studied, but one excellent and infallible way is found out among some of the great Architects of the age, namely to make no fyre in them, and by the same rule, have some very sweet Jakes too.” Alas, one does not get that luxury, so he comments on other common designs of the time.

The first design involves a making a closed pit and line it with lime and “tarries” – an old mortar and cement mixture – “with no way for wind to stir it, and it should smother the smell as darkness smothers a candle.” This cesspit style only works until it is filled, and “too much wind is generated by too frequent use.”

<>The next design involves building the seats in a chimney, so that the air may be vent out of the house. “But this is not fre of all infection or annoyance while one is there” for if the wind shifts the wrong way and blows down the chimney, the odor is moved throughout the house.

Therefore, the design Harrington favors is of his own devising, to whit: “And not to hold in too long suspense, the device is this: you shall make a false bottom to that privie that you are annoyed with, either of lead or stone, the which bottome shall have a sluice of brass to let out all the filth, which if it be close plaistered all about it and renced with water as oft as occasion serves, but specially at noone and at night, will keep your privie as sweet as your parlour.”

Fig. 11. The parts laid out on display for Harrington’s improved jakes.

The parts as described:

“A. the cesterne stone or bricke

B. D. E. the pype thatcomes from the cesterne with a stopple to the washer

C. a wast pipe

F. G. stem of the great stopple with a key to it

H. the forme of the upper brim of the vessel or stoole pot.

M. the stoole pot of stone or lead

N. the great brass sluice to which is three inches current, to send it down a gallop into the Jax.”

Fig. 12. The assembled Jakes, but I think the fish are merely a stylistic element.

The key for the assembled picture:

“A. the cesterne.

B. the little washer.

C. the wast pipe.

D. the seat boord.

E. the pipe that comes from the Cesterne.

F. the Screw.

G. the scallop shell to cover it when it is shut down.

H. the stoole pot.

I. the stopple.

K. the current.

M. N. the vault into which it falls: always remember that "at noone and night, emptie it and leave it halfe a foote deepe in fayre water. And this being well done, and orderly kept, your worst privie may smell as sweet as your best chamber. But to conclude all this in a few wordes: it is but a standing close stoole easily emptied. And by like reason (other formes and proportions observed) all other places of your house may be kept sweet.”

I realize that modern sensibilities would cringe about flushing twice a day whether it need it or no, but the innovation of leaving water in the pan was a predecessor to the water kept in the U-bend- which is know for keeping the gasses from escaping into the room. This alone would improve the smell. Alas, like the creation of Thomas Brightfield, Harrington’s invention was widely ignored, although his text was preserved.

An Addendum for the Modern Middle Ages

For the ultimate luxury for your period encampment, one could consider the virtues of a close-stool for your camp. For modern hygiene purposes one would need to modify it slightly. One could design the close stool to disguise a chemical toilet, or plastic line the inside (or alternatively, line with wax or pitch), and create handles to hold plastic baggies to catch. Then one could tie off the bags, tightly seal them, and dispose of them each morning. I would not recommend it for daily use, but for those evenings and early hours of the morning when one isn’t sure what one would encounter outside of the safe confines of one’s tent. And certainly, the older I become, the more this concept appeals. My father would recommend a wide PVC pipe tightly sealed on one end with a tightly fitting cap on the other end for used plastic bag storage, and perhaps this could be kept within the cabinet, or another carrying case. Such PVC devices are used by low-impact campers- when everything that goes in must be carried out, and with no spills. Obviously, digging a proper cesspit in any campground or creating compost would not be sanitary or permitted.


Barzilay, Joshua L., Winkler G. Weinberg and J. William Eley. The Water We Drink: Water Quality and its Effects on Health. Rutgers Univeristy Press, NY 1999. ISBN 0-8135-273-6. Secondary.

Colman, Penny. Toilets, Bathtubs, Sinks and Sewers: A History of the Bathroom. Macmillan, NY 1994. Secondary.

Donno, Elizabeth Story (ed. and commentary). Sir John Harrington’s A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. Columbia University Press, NY 1962. Includes full reprint of the 1596 text. Primary.

“The History of Plumbing, Parts 1-8” Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine 10 (June 1993): 6-124, Also available at . Tertiary, as no sources are given.

Horan, Julie L. The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet. Birch Lane Press, 1996. ISBN 1-55972-346-7. Secondary.

Kilroy, Roger. The Compleat Loo: A Lavatorial Miscellany. Barnes & Noble, NY 1984. ISBN 0-7607-0416-3. Tertiary text, Primary & secondary pictures.

Reynolds, Reginald. Cleanliness and Godliness. Doubleday, NY 1946. Tertiary/secondary. He cites references, but never fully.

Wright, Lawrence. Clean and Decent: The Unruffled History of the Bathroom and the W.C. Viking, NY 1960. Secondary.

Note: Pictures are snipped for copywright reasons.

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