Hedeby bag for the Silver Brooch Exchange 2020

I’m back again, and this time with art. I actually completed this project about a year ago but I thought it was time to finally update the record here.
I was invited to participate in a Silver Brooch Gift Exchange (solely for members of the first level art award in the SCA), and these kinds of things are my favorite. I really enjoy creating art for people and these opportunities are perfect for that. I was assigned to make a gift for another fighter artist *and* his persona was norse. It was perfect.
The idea I had was a norse ispired hedeby/haithabu bag. There’s speculation about this particular style of bag for numerous reasons. I think one of the challenges is that organic components often don’t hold up to time so we don’t have a lot of archeological evidence to pull from. There have been handles found, but the handles are never in pairs. This is actually pretty frustrating to me because the design with two handles is very practical. Two handles keep the bag closed and limit the chances of losing things. I don’t believe that I’m the only person that feels this way because many (or most) people reconstruct this bag with two handles.

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Handles displayed at the Haithabu Museum

 

I’m a novice woodworker, so this was the first time I made something like this. I had to redo one handle due to my inexperience, I drilled a hole too close to the edge and it split the wood. I used modern tools to create the handles but in the future, I would explore some of the tools a norse man or woman may have used.
I chose to make the strap in wool using tablet weaving methods. I chose red and black because these are the colors of my giftee. I was worried that the strap would not be long enough because my giftee is very tall, but I think it is *just* long enough.

Finally, I made the bag using wool on the outside because it’s sturdy, protective and period, and I used linen inside. I sewed a pocket into the lining for extra organizational potential, and there’s not historical evidence for this, but I like to add a small pocket in bags for myself, so I did it here too.
Overall, I am happy with how the bag came out, but I think I could definitely make improvements using what I learned. I hope to make handles again but make them a little thinner and finish the handles in linseed oil.
The crazy thing was that my recipient received me as his giftee. His (sca) name is Sigvardr and he made me the most amazing and beautiful goat pendant out of bronze. Consider checking out his FB page Silverhand Jewelry. Here is a picture of the gift I received:

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Bronze pendant made by Sigvardr (Silverhand Jewelry)

Thank you for reading!
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Coming back from failure

So, I’m posting this now because this was voted highest in my informal Facebook poll and because most everyone is isolated at home and it’s new content that may help people in the Times of Extra Crafting.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this out, or if I should. The thing is, failure isn’t something that people are usually proud of or want to talk about. In this case especially, making art for others makes it especially hard to talk about when things go awry. I’d never want to belittle a gift for someone, they should have the freedom to appreciate it without the flaws flaunted.

This happened a while ago and I’m not going to get into specifics because that’s not what this is about. This is more about recovery than failure, to be honest, because it would have been easier to run away than it would be to come back to it. But also, this is about my recovery because I kind of feel like I need to write this out to come back completely. 

What happened, in a broad sense, was real life chaos paired with me taking on too many projects (i.e. not paying enough attention to my limits), and a healthy side of personal drama, came together to make me feel incapable of tackling anything. But of course, I still had those too many projects on my plate, most with due dates and still had to deal with the real life things or they would get worse. I had a really rough time for a bit and that affected my productivity. 

I powered through all of the difficulties of feeling unmotivated, overwhelmed, and stressed. At times it was like trudging through mud, but I did it. In the end, my final project felt just horrible and I didn’t have time to work on it anymore. I knew that I could have done better and I felt like I let myself, my mentors, and really everybody down. 

But, I don’t want anyone to feel badly for me because a lot of this growth in the aftermath of that was to take responsibility for my failures and to set myself up for success in the future. But it took awhile to get here and to accumulate inspiration again. I should have known that something like this was apt to happen but, I thought not to me! Sometimes I can be wrong.

So, how did I get back to it from that really dark, discouraged place that I had sunken into?

First, I wasn’t jumping at new projects. I knew that taking a moment to breath was important. I needed to evaluate where I was. Sure, a success may have helped pull me up from it but… another failure could have sunk me. I took a moment and then when I was able to collect myself I allowed myself to start on a new project fresh. When I say that, I mean with a fresh emotional state. I think it’s crucial to try to leave all the emotional baggage behind you and just retain the lessons learned. It was lucky that I was assigned a project that I was able to just enjoy and didn’t have a lot of pressure attached to it. 

Second, I had to come to terms that everyone fails sometimes. I’m (unfortunately) included in everyone. Ugh, this was hard for me because you see all the amazing things online and you want to believe you’re the only one that didn’t do well. You’re definitely not the only one. Trust me.

Third, recognizing that you can come back from failure. And I think that’s the really important part. You gotta keep moving forward despite setbacks and perceived failures because those things are where growth is cultivated. And if you can do that, you will be stronger in no matter what area you felt like you faltered. 

So that’s it. I have since moved on and have continued my pursuits in art. If you’re struggling with this, I hope you can too! 

Stay healthy and safe everybody and happy crafting!

Brandubh Board for Ducal Challenge

I had the honor of using my art to sponsor one of my fighter friends in a tournament. He publicly asked for help and I messaged him a few days later asking if he had any offers yet. He hadn’t so I volunteered. 

The tournament rules were that if you were a fighter, you either had to commission a piece of art or create a piece of art yourself that would then go into the prize pool. I had never participated in this tournament before because it’s quite far from me, and I also didn’t have a great concept of what art is acceptable but I tried anyway. I knew my friend was into board games and I had created my Hnefatafl board in the past so I thought that might be a good jumping point.

Since I’m not actually insane, I decided I wouldn’t do the 11×11 board which has 37 glass pieces which is… a lot. I knew that there were other size boards so that’s where I went looking. I ended up finding an Irish version of the game called Brandubh that used a 7×7 board and only 13 glass pieces. Which seemed perfect for this project.

I had fun creating this but, I really struggled with authenticity. There is this push and pull between creative fun and accurate fun. The original board that I used for inspiration was carved wood with spots for pegs. I think I have an idea for making pegs in the future but I didn’t have the time to try that for this project. 

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Brandubh Board found at Ballinderry crannog excavations, 9-11 century, likely from Dublin

Instead of really diving into learning how-to intricately carve wood and make pegged pieces (with more research to figure out what material these may have been made,) I focused on best guesses, aesthetic, and durability — this is meant to be played after all. But, part of me felt like I would be scrutinized for using modern methods and materials even though I know this is not an A&S competition and I volunteered to do this for fun and for the love of my friend. Even with that in my brain, part of me still felt like I was failing. But in the end, I did it the way I planned and I am happy with how it turned out. Part of this journey, I think, is having the right standards for each project on a case-by-case basis.

So, I ended up painting the board with acrylics. I used designs that I found on extant boards but I also took some artistic liberties, including a blue tyger face right in the center of the board. I made glass bead pieces because I knew that they were used in other Tafl boards so it was at least plausible. I wanted this board to be East Kingdom themed so I used lots of purples and yellows which may not be the most historically accurate but it did look pretty sexy, in my opinion. Then I sprayed the board with a sealant to ensure that this would last. That may be the most extra modern thing I did but it would be unfortunate if all the paint chipped.

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Finished painted board

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**this is not the beginning set-up to the game.**

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New unbroken King

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New unbroken King

This project really challenged me in a different way. Part of me always wants to do something as accurate as possible but there is a time and place for everything. My sponsored fighter told me he loved the game and was very happy to be entering it into the tournament and he also told me that it was one of the first prizes to go at the end. In this case, what matters is that everyone is happy with the results and I think in that way, I can call this a success!  

Exploding Glass and Other Lessons

Recently, a memory came up on my Facebook of things I’ve learned from beadmaking/lampworking. I posted it about 2 years ago. This is how the list goes:

  1. If a tool or glass has touched the fire… it’s not safe to touch (especially with your mouth) even if it was just in the fire for a second.
  2. Sometimes it’s best to just swear at the glass and walk away.
  3. The fuel always runs out at the worst possible time.
  4. If you don’t protect everything, you will burn something (carpet, table, clothes…).
  5. Sometimes it’s not working because the world wants you to be happy, just accept that.
  6. Some colors suck more than others.
  7. Some colors pretend to be one color but are really another.
  8. Glass likes slow change… not fast or whippy and spinny … this applies to all parts of the process.

I still like my list two years later. All those rules are rules that I learned from experience. Most, but not all, have tragic stories behind them. Some of these mistakes I still make two years later but, I’m still learning everyday. 

But the thing is, I probably could have learned some of these things from someone else’s experience. It’s a fault of mine that I don’t like asking for help and once I commit to something… I commit to it fully. So that leads to a lot of struggle that my friends don’t see. When I first started learning to lampwork, a lot of people praised me for good work. A lot of people made fun that things come easily for me and that I’m good at everything. But what I don’t post about often is the frustrated, crying, mess I am when every single piece of glass I try to slowly warm up shocks and pieces go flying, and hey I melted my pajama pants to my legs because I probably should have worn something safer. Then, since I haven’t had a lot of experience with working with fire, I would pick up the mandrel or a piece of glass still hot because ahhh it’s burning the carpet! Then my fingers are burning and I drop it back down because better the carpet than my hands… Then finally, my partner soothing me by reminding me that I can’t just be good at something immediately, these things take practice and time. And I want to quit. Forever. But I can’t.. Or won’t. I start over again and I keep trying until something works. And that’s the thing I post on Facebook: the final thing that worked. 

So, I have been working on reaching out for help in different areas so I can learn from other people’s mistakes. I’ve also been working on sharing my mistakes so others can learn from me. I don’t just do this from dangerous on fire crafts, but scribal arts, fiber arts, and others as well. 

The thing that drew me to the SCA is that everyone is willing to help everyone succeed. If you want to learn to do something… There is likely someone more than eager to help, you just have to ask around. I know it’s hard to do, trust me I know. But sometimes the hard things are the most rewarding. 

Norse Hnefatafl Board in Oak

FB_IMG_1565960623460I’m a geek at heart (just like the rest of you Scadians out there) and one of my passions is board games. Well, I started learning about Hnefatafl (lovingly called Viking Chess by some) online and I was really interested. Then I learned my calculus professor in college studied board game math (way over my head btw) and one of the games he was researching was Hnefatafl. I geeked out really hard with him in office hours!

Around this time I also was exploring the art of lampworking and beginning to make glass beads, trying to replicate viking age finds. This art was haaaarrrd to start. I was constantly shocking glass and burning myself and my carpet and everything around me and too shy to ask advice from those who are more experienced than I…. but I’ll talk more about my adventures in glass in a later post. I did, however, find out that game pieces on Hnefatafl boards were often made of glass.

I decided that I wanted to create a useable game board with glass pieces and ended up entering it in the local arts and sciences competition (and became Malagentia’s A&S champion that year!)

Instead of rewording everything I did, I’m going to include my documentation for this project. I would love feedback or questions if you have any. Otherwise I hope you enjoy!

(P.S. I usually bring this to events if you want to see or play it!)

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Items in entry:

-An oak board with an 11 by 11 Hnefatafl board hand carved into the surface painted with black and blue milk paint.

-37 pieces created by hand using lampworking techniques including: 

-24 glass pieces in a yellow-green color (attackers)

-12 glass pieces in a blue color (defenders)

-1 King (defender)

Background

Hnefatafl or King’s Table was a “chess-like” game played during the viking age in scandinavia. Children and adults as well as men and women (1) all played this game which involved a large force of attackers (24 attackers in this example) against a smaller force of defenders (12 defenders and a king in this example). The objective for the defenders is to help the king escape the board through one of the corners and the objective for the attackers is to capture the king. There are different versions of the game that include boards as small as 7 by 7 and as large as 15 by 15 and a variety of sizes of forces. In some versions dice were also used to restrict or control distance of movement. 

Tafl boards have been found made of stone, bone, and wood but very few complete boards have survived time. Some pieces have been found made of a variety of materials such as glass, bone, antler, stone, amber, and horse teeth (2).  

Description: 

    I decided to use oak because it was a wood available during the viking age (3) for a variety of purposes. Unfortunately, since there were so few wooden boards found due to how fast wood decomposes, there isn’t a large sample size to pull from. One board found was carved into spruce, which I attempted to use previously but, because of the softness of this wood I had a hard time carving it without splintering. I had more success getting clean lines with oak. 

          This was my first attempt at carving wood and it was a learning experience. I used hand carving tools that were similar to what a norse person would use.  I found later that the v-shaped gouge I used wasn’t invented yet during the time period I was aiming for but a u-shaped gouge had been invented. I could have easily substituted the tools and it would not have dramatically changed the appearance of the finished piece. 

          I chose to paint inside the wooden carved lines because it makes it easier to define the game spaces and the norse frequently painted their wooden carvings (3). I used casein paint because it seems feasible that the norse would have mixed pigments with casein because casein, found in milk would have likely been available and is fairly durable and long lasting.

    I made the glass pieces using lampworking techniques which is a skill that I have been working on for other projects. There were many finds of glass pieces because they don’t decompose as easily as some other materials. It is possible that glass was used because it was a valuable resource that would allow one to show off their wealth, it was available, and with careful care, it would last a long time . There were 20 glass pieces that were found in Sweden at Birka grave 523 (2) that appear to have been created on a mandrel similar to what I used. I used a modern torch and propane where a more period technique would have been a clay glass oven. 

          I decided to use blue glass for the attackers because a dark blue was frequently used in game piece artifacts and it is a dark color that I liked. The opposing force were generally created in a lighter color. I used a yellow color because the contrast was appealing. Another option would have been a light blue because there were a number of light blue / dark blue game sets found. There was a dark blue and yellow set found in Norway that dates back to the 8th century. This made yellow especially appealing to me because my persona is from Norway.

References:

1)  Viking Answer Lady- King’s Table: Game of the Noble Scandinavians (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/games.shtml)

2) Looking For Evidence: Viking Game Pieces (https://sites.google.com/site/archoevidence/home/viking-games-pieces

3) Viking Answer Lady- Woodworking in the Viking Age (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wood.shtml)

Oak Chair

At my first camping event, my good friend C took me around the site to see all the really cool medieval things. I was astonished at how creative and authentic some people’s camps were. In some places I really felt like I had travelled to the past.

One of the things that really struck me was the chairs. I know that may seem strange but the chairs seemed to make a huge impact in the ambiance of camp. I had very minor experience in woodworking, I took a class in…middle school younger days, and I had made a couple of wooden chests for a friend to give away as a prize earlier that summer. Even though I didn’t have the skill yet, I knew someone that had all the working tools, (and knowledge) and I was inspired.

I researched different styles of medieval chairs. I had decided my persona was going to be norse but I really wanted to create an X-Chair which was later period. I found this site: Thomas Guild that showed some beautiful chairs (with museum pictures and art from manuscripts!!!) including  14th and 15th century folding x-chairs. Then I found a tutorial on instructables that showed me how to do it! It’s not a perfect replication but it will pass.

 

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I did have assistance for this project, my mom’s boyfriend helped me use the tools and deceipher the instructions. He was fantastic in letting me do a lot of the work but answering questions and helping me along the way.

The chair I made was in oak because it’s a nice hardwood and oak trees were used for woodworking medievally. I left it unstained but have considered using linseed oil to protect it. I used modern woodworking tools including drills, saws, and sandpaper because it’s easier.

The chair turned out very sturdy and folds nicely and is comfortable if you can sit without a back to the chair. It got damp once and I had trouble folding it after that but once it was completely dried, it folds even better than before.

I would love to hear what you think!

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