Posts from the ‘other stuff’ Category

Story Stones

I’ve just made two sets of Story Stones. One set I will gift to Stegby at the up and coming Feast of Friendship, the other set is for me, as part of my bardic bag of tricks.

So what are Story Stones?

Story Stones

Every stone has a word, and every word is the seed for a new story

Put simply, they are a creative lubricant. Basically, it’s any number of stones in an appropriately sized bag. On each stone, there is a word. Most of these words are nouns… places, people, animals, things. I’ve added some colours in too, just in case.

The idea is to draw out two stones at random, then to ad-lib a story featuring those two things.

I tested them out on myself this afternoon. I picked out “Eagle” and “Lizard”. There, in front of my husband and my step-daughter, I created the following short story:

The Tale of the Eagle and the Lizard

Once upon a time, there was an eagle. He was flying along on a nice day, feeling the wind ruffle through his feathers, thinking how good it was to be an eagle.

At the same time, a lizard was out having a bask. He was enjoying his life, lying there on his favourite rock, feeling the sun on his back, thinking how good it was to be a lizard.

The eagle happened to look down and see the lizard, lying there on a nice, exposed rock. “Hmm, I’m a bit peckish,” he thought, and decided that the lizard would make a fantastic lunch. So he swooped down and grabbed the lizard.

The lizard, who had been nodding off, woke suddenly and saw the ground slipping away underneath him. “Wha…. What’s going on? Where am I?” He looked up to see the eagle. “Who are you?”

The eagle looked at the lizard briefly. “I’m going to take you back to my nest and eat you for lunch,” he explained.

The lizard didn’t like the sound of that. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said, “You don’t want to eat me. Look, I’m scrawny, I’m bony, I really don’t taste that good. But what if I said I could get you something that was a lot tastier, and would fill you up more?”

The eagle thought about it, and realised he really was quite hungry, and the lizard would probably only do for a quick snack. “What do you have in mind?” he asked.

“Look, see that bush down there?” The lizard pointed at a large bush hemmed in by some trees. “That’s where we need to go.”

The eagle looked down where the lizard was pointing. “I’m not to sure about that, I’m really too big to go into a space that’s got lots of trees like that. They get caught up in my wings.”

“Don’t worry. I can get you something much larger than me, but it’s there. You just have to drop me off there and I’ll go get it for you.”

The eagle greedily imagined plump rabbits and other yummy things to eat as he swooped down to the clear spot next to the bush.

“Stay here, I’ll be just a second,” the lizard called as he scampered into the bushes.

The eagle waited. And waited. And waited. After about ten minutes, he called out “What’s the hold up?”

But there was no reply.

Check out this site!

If you’ve at all found my site to be of interest, there’s another site you may well find to be just as informative:  http://tangibledaydreams.blogspot.com/

I was looking for bits and pieces SCA related, and this blog happened across my radar, and has now been bookmarked.  So far I’ve looked through felting, trichinopoly, slippers, hat making, and I’m only just scratching the surface.

On Bone

Bone is lovely stuff.  I fell in love with it at the first SCA demo my partner took me to.  There was this wonderful lady who had some remarkable bits of carved bone on display, and we got into a prolonged discussion about the merits of bone carving as an art form.  I came away from that demo with a desire to try it, at least once in my life.

The first thing I found out was that it’s not that easy to get information about it on the internet.  I guess I’m a lazy researcher, if I can’t find it on Google, I pretty much won’t look much further unless I have a really good reason to.  So, after a few hours looking at sites that were only marginally connected to what I was trying to find out, I figured the best way to learn was to reinvent the wheel.

I didn’t do it all alone.  I’d had some good discussions with some SCAdians about bone and horn before I started, so I knew there were health risks involved.  If you’re reading this as a future bone carver, please note: there are SERIOUS health risks involved.  Bone is wonderful stuff, but when you carve it, you get powdered bone.  Powdered bone is not good to breathe.  If it gets into your lungs, it stays there.  It’s too heavy to cough out.  Powdered bone can also scratch corneas.  ALWAYS use safety goggles and a decent face mask that will stop fine particulate matter.  Keep your carving area well ventilated.  And, where possible, run a vacuum cleaner close to your work to suck up excess bone powder.  No piece of carving is worth you contracting white lung, or going blind.  On top of that, hand protection is a must too.  If you’re working scrimshaw, you’re going to be using lots of sharp implements that can easily slip.  If you’re using a rotary tool, not only do you have slippage to worry about, you’ve got to watch that you take frequent breaks.  The vibration of the tool can cause a problem known as white finger.  Use carving gloves, and don’t run your rotary tool for hours on end. 

Preparation

When I first set out to learn, I decided to go the whole hog.  The cheapest way, I figured, was to buy pet bones and prepare them myself.  I had been advised that boiling the bones was a good way to get the nasties off, and that a little bit of detergent into the water would help to break down the connective tissue.  That sounded awesome to my scientifically inclined mind, and made a lot of sense.  So I picked up a couple of bags of offcuts marked for pets from the local butcher, shoved them into a huge pot of water with a bit of detergent in it, chucked it onto the stove and sat down to wait for the magic to happen.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Some pieces of bone were ready almost immediately, and these were carefully removed with tongs as they became free of meat and marrow.  Others took much longer.  After twelve hours of topping up the water so it didn’t boil dry, I got rather sick of the smell and the heat, so I stopped.  There were still bone pieces with connective tissue adhered to them.  The theory behind the detergent is all well and good, but in practise, it’s not that great after all.

Translucency due to fat in the bone

Using offcuts wasn’t that great either.  I had a pile of different pieces of bone, but not all of them were usable, and they were all rather thin (<2mm).  I managed a lot of nice sized flat pieces early on, but they were fragile.  Boiling them for so long also managed to produce some strange colourations, as in some cases the marrow seeped into the pores of the bone, and in others the fat turned the bone yellowish or patchy and almost translucent .

  Later on I changed the source of my bone, having found a pet supply store nearby.  It’s marvellous what opportunities expanding your horizons can provide you with!  I began paying a bit more for my bones, but getting more bang for my buck, when I switched to using shin.

My mate, Jean the Hornmaster, told me I should only be boiling the bones long enough for the marrow to go nice and sloppy, so I did just that.  Forget the detergent, forget boiling for hours on end, I put the water to the boil, popped in my new bones, and roughly a half hour later I retrieved them.  I gave them a flush with cold water, poked out any marrow that was still stuck in the middle, and voila!  I had some lovely, white bone that was roughly 6 – 7mm thick throughout.

This carving clearly shows marrow that has seeped into the pores of the bone.

Carving

My first foray into bone carving was a small piece of scrim, using only a needle.

Mermaid, carved on beef bone, coloured with oils.

I chose a mermaid, as all my somewhat limited forays into internet research on scrimshaw had led me to the conclusion that “true authenticity” would be best upheld by a nautical theme. (N.B. I was rather precious at the time.  I have since relaxed somewhat).

It took me forever to carve this.  Well, maybe not forever, but a number of hours.  I think I can put this down to not yet realising something every scrimshander needs to know.

Bone is softer when it’s wet.

Dry bone is horribly hard and brittle, and doesn’t take a needle very well at all.  But soak that bone in water, and it’s hard not to mark it.

Also, don’t use a needle, or a pin, or any other sharp thing that’s really small.  Your hands will cramp up terribly.  Try a splinter probe, or a really sharp awl.  And don’t forget the carvers gloves, or some other sort of hand guard designed for carvers.  You will end up stabbing yourself, no matter how careful you are.

 For the record, using oil paint to colour my work was not an original idea.  I read somewhere (I forget where, but I’m pretty sure it was a tertiary source with no references) that oil paints was a common way of making scrim stand out on the bone.  I forget which particular period this referred to, but it was within a time period covered by SCA.  So I went ahead and painted my work with oil paints that may very well be synthetic tones (LOL) with the gusto that only the very freshest of SCAdians can muster, not documenting any of my research at all.  The older me winces.  It may very well be a period practice, but I haven’t seen anything about it since.  Please, if anyone has more information about the historic use of oils to colour scrimshaw, please leave a comment with sources, I’d be very interested to follow up on that one.

After this first attempt, I pretty much gave up on using the old fashioned methods and turned to a rotary tool (also known as a Dremel, for those who use well known brand names to signify the generic item).  It used to belong to my partner.  It now, through use and addition of added extras, belongs to me by default.

Originally my rotary tool had a flexible arm that I could attach bits to.  I don’t any more.  It seems they get hot very quickly (I melted the plastic on the outside of it within the first week of use), and they’re rather fragile (the second week, I don’t know how, but the inner drive shaft snapped).  Since then I’ve been working without the flexi-arm.  This offers some unfortunate limitations to angles I’m able to reach with my bits, but them’s the breaks.

A rotary tool allows you to do amazing things with bone very quickly.  I’ve found that using dry bone with a rotary tool is better than using wet bone, as wet bone tends to gum up the bits very quickly.  Also, if you’re using  a rotary tool on bone, use a low speed setting.  Bone burns very easily, and when it does, it turns a very unpleasant orange colour.  I actually learned this from attempting to buff an early piece of bone I was preparing for a local A&S competition.  Faster does not necessarily equate to quicker.  Unfortunately, the burn was in a place I couldn’t sand out, so I had to resort to hiding it, by inking the entire piece in black and rubbing off highlights.   My piece won, but I will always recall the shame of hiding the unsightly burn.

Polishing

Bone takes a polish very nicely with a polishing wheel.  I’m quite fortunate to have a large grinder in my workshop, with a rag disk attached, but you can get similar polishing implements that attach to drills, and tiny polishing bits for rotary tools are available from most hardware stores.

Polishing your bone will show you exactly where all your lumps and bumps are.  If you’re using a rotary tool for your carving, this is where your little stone bits come in.  Work carefully over your rough spots with your fine grinding bits until it comes up nicely.  I say carefully, because it’s very easy to remove pieces of detail.  Then polish.  You should be able to get a mirror shine when you’re done.

Polishing compounds will help you to get a nice finish, but the bone will generally pick up a tinge of the compound colour.  It doesn’t always buff completely out, especially in areas of high detail.  For this reason, I’ve stopped using a green cutting compound.  It simply looked wrong.  I generally use a brown, however I’ve been told that white compounds exist which would be a better choice.  If you do happen to get cutting compound into prominent, hard-to-buff places, there’s a simple solution.  Brush your carved piece rather briskly with hot water and a soft toothbrush.  The plastic is softer than the bone, so it leaves your pattern and polish intact, while removing the coloured cutting wax.

If you’re working scrim without anything electrical, progressively finer sandpapers will do the trick, until you’re eventually buffing with a soft cloth.  The level of polish you’re going to get depends on your level of patience.

Hopefully this little how-to has been of help to those seeking the knowledge I had to find out the hard way.  Happy carving, everyone!

My latest piece, completed this morning.

The Spirit of Lochac, and on writing filk (and why I can’t teach it)

Looking through my blog, I realised that I’ve not yet put in a plug for The Spirit of Lochac.

That’s probably because I wrote it before I started this blog.  Not only that, but it exists elsewhere on the internet, at the Lochac Performers and Entertainers Guild.  However, I am currently constructing a page to place all my song links onto, and I believe The Spirit of Lochac needs to be on that list.

A Lochac warrior stepped out
One bright and shining day
To face a horde of armed men
Upon the battle fray
His armour gleamed, his shield held high,
His sword held fast in hand
As he stepped forth that fateful day
For to protect his land

‘Twas on the field at Rowany
Our hero stood his ground
An army waited by his side,
But not one made a sound.
For on the ridge, an awful sight,
The enemy was vast,
And then they roared, that mighty horde,
And fell upon them fast.

Swords and shields did crash and bang
In dizzy fearsome flight
But every time the one foe fell,
Another joined the fight
Weariness did take its toll
Our hero’s arms ran red
And amongst the gore of those he slayed
None noticed that he bled.

His strength was sapping mighty quick,
In vain our hero tried,
But from one foe, the telling blow
And our dear hero died.
But lies a heart of fortitude
In every Lochac man
And like unto a Lazarus
Our hero rose again.

His pallid flesh was icy cold
But his eyes they burned like flame
A demon in him bursted forth
As each opponent came
The bodies piled within his wake,
None could withstand his might,
And as the last opponent fell
He vanished in the night.

Seven times that day he fell
And seven times he rose,
For Lochac men do not lie down
To face their battle foes.
A horde of men that day he fought,
A horde of men he slayed
For none can match the valour of
A Lochac hero’s shade!

The song was written specifically (at least in part) for Festival, where I received nothing but positive feedback for it, especially from the fighters that heard it.  But the best feedback was the silence after I sang it in the bardic circle, and seconds later, the almost whispered “Huzzah“.

This recording is not the best rendition.  It was recorded when the song was in its very first stages of being settled in my head, and contains none of the tempo changes I use now.  I do intend to re-record this song at some stage, but until then, please, if you see me at an event, don’t be afraid to collar me for a live performance.  So long as my throat is in good condition, I’ll be more than willing.

For those who find the tune familiar, you may indeed have heard it before.  It’s a direct rip of The Handsome Cabin Boy by Kate Bush.

This was not the original tune I had planned for this song.  The original tune was going to be Tempus Adest Floridum, more popularly known now as Good King Wenceslas.  Nor is it the original lyrics.  In fact, very little of the ditty that woke me up in the wee hours of the morning late 2010 actually remains.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was twelve.  Reams and reams of the stuff.  I’m 36 as of the writing of this post, so that makes 24 years of experience.  Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practise.  But for me, writing has never been a process of sitting down with the aim of writing something.  That process works with some people, but every time I actually attempt to write poetry, I end up with drivel.  My best works have been spontaneous, and tend to occur at the most inconvenient times.  The middle of the night, while riding a bicycle, while sitting in a restaurant… I recall one time in particular when I wrote on the back of a shopping docket in eyeliner because I had no paper or pen handy, but the words burning through my mind so quickly that I knew I would lose them if I waited.

For a long time I thought that spark was all I needed for my writing, and if I had continued with that line of thought, you would, instead of listening to The Spirit of Lochac, be listening to The Seven Deaths of ****** (name blocked to protect the innocent), a jaunty tune which describes how one specific SCAdian dies several times in succession.  It was very specific.  I thought he might have taken it amiss that I killed him over and over again in song.  I quite like him, and you don’t try to kill friends.  So I tabled it.  It didn’t scan well, the lyrics were off colour, it just wasn’t going to work as it was.
But editing is an important part of writing poetry, and the core of the story was a good one, so I took what was good and worked with it.  Sometimes you’ve got a heap of good that’s wiped out by just a few lines.  Experience is the only thing that can tell you what to cut and what to keep.

I removed all references to the original victim of the song.  I wanted this to be a ghostly hero rather than a real life person.  And I got rid of the music altogether and stepped back into an easy rhythm which I call “horseplod”, but which probably had a much nicer name somewhere outside of my own head.  Basically, the accent is on every second syllable.  Eight syllables first line, six the second, eight the third, six the fourth, rhyme on the second and fourth lines.  When I’d finished cutting and shaping, which was quite a tedious process, I had 4 verses of usable material.

Later that day I was listening to various ballads, and The Handsome Cabin Boy was amongst them.  It stuck me that this used the same beat pattern I had settled on for my poem, so that was the tune I used.

Unfortunately, the very first person I showed it to (beyond my other half, whom I automatically expect to be biased), after raving at how it read like music, tried to give me the tune she thought I should put with it.  All I heard coming from her lips was the same note over and over again in a rather unrhythmic pattern, which does not a tune make.  At which point I told her I already had decided on using the tune from another ballad (a wonderfully period practice), and sang her the first verse.  Her face turned sour and she told me that I didn’t need to turn it into a dirge, that this should be a more uplifting song, and that I should write my own music, I shouldn’t make filk.

Please don’t ever do this to anyone.

I put this song away for months because of her comments.  I knew it was good poetry, but I wanted it to be good music.   I’d even forgotten I’d written it, as I hadn’t wanted to look at it after hearing negative comments the first time I’d shown my work.  Criticism does not equal critiquing, and can be very harmful.

Eventually I found it again during a tidy up months later,  and reading through it with fresh eyes I found there was a lack within the story at two points.  I didn’t have a description of where my warrior was, or what he was facing (which became verse 2), nor did I have a description of what happened when he rose (this became verse 5).  I spent roughly a week on those two verses.  I knew what I wanted to say, but writing with purpose is not my strong suit.  It was at this point that I decided to make the song specifically for Rowany Festival, as I was steadily gearing up to attend.  Those two verses were, I think,  the thing that took this from good poetry to great poetry.

I then revived the tune.  I was convinced it could sound good despite what had been said, so I persevered.  And thus was born The Spirit of Lochac.

I was asked just a few days ago about perhaps doing a collegia on how to write period style filk.  But I can’t teach that.  I just don’t know how to teach a skill that’s grown from something I do without thinking about it.  Perhaps this blog entry gives a small taste of why that is.

And if you haven’t found the link to the song yet, here it is one more time:  The Spirit of Lochac

(c) Kristine Robinson 2011

Mmm… Treacle Tarts…

This is not a period recipe.  Not that I know of, anyway.  I’m not saying that treacle tarts weren’t made back then, I’m just saying that this is something I got into my head to make, googled a few recipes, then kind of chucked a number of disparate ideas together to make sugary stuff to eat.

I bought some treacle last week.  If you’ve never tasted treacle, it’s awesome stuff.  Like molasses.  Or malt.  Not powdered malt, the syrup malt.  Mmm yum.  And of course, once you have something like that in the house, you have to cook with it.

To make these tarts, I’ve cut out a heap of circles from a sheet of shortcrust pastry that I just happened to have in my freezer, and put them into some pretty silicone cupcake trays that I’ve had lying around for a while.    Then, I’ve taken a glop of treacle.  For those of you unused to such highly scientific terms as “glop”, I’ve used maybe half to three quarters of a cup of treacle.  I’ve put it into a saucepan, along with a squirt of lemon juice (yay for the plastic lemons you can buy in the shape of a bottle!) and a few shakes of powdered ginger.  I’ve heated that lovely mix on the stove and stirred it until everything is mixed, and the treacle is now really runny.  Then I poured in breadcrumbs and mixed it.
You need to be fairly careful with the breadcrumbs.  There’s a consistency you want to maintain: too little means you end up with runny slop, but too much will become a hassle to stir in.  You should play with the mix until you’re satisfied that you’ve got a solid that you can easily spoon into the cases and pat down.

Then I shoved it all into the oven to bake.  I’m working with around 200C in this instance, but whatever you think is going to work best.  I’m a guesstimating cook, and I rarely work with measurements of anything unless I think it’s going to blow up if I don’t.  When the crust was starting to turn golden, I pulled them out.

Then I started again, using golden syrup instead of treacle.

Yum.

Yummy tarts

Dying my fabric

Remember the doona cover I had snaffled from a second hand shop?  Let me refresh your memory here.

I dyed it last night.

I’ve never dyed anything before, so it was somewhat with trepidation.  Especially as I couldn’t find a dye designed to give me the colour I originally wanted (a pale peach would have been nice, but I was always willing to change my mind).  Instead, I settled on Aztec Gold (from the iDye range).

As the fabric was a cotton/poly blend, and the dye I used was solely for natural fibres, it’s picked out the pattern nicely.

The two faces of my fabric, along with the cotton I'll be using for the skirt.

The plain cotton I’m using for the skirt will probably get dyed again, as there are a number of spots where the dye hasn’t taken properly.  My hope is to also get the plain fabric a little darker.  I’m happy with the shade for the patterned fabric, though, and will be starting to put together a plan for the pattern sometime in the next couple of weeks.

I can has medieval burger?

Today I received “Pleyn Delit” from my wonderful mailman.  courtesy of Mainly Medieval.  So my cooking, which has sadly stagnated due to not actually having any cookbooks available which don’t reside on the internet, shall be revived.

I do intend to start posting more on here very shortly, however my time has been somewhat taken up by things I can’t really post up here (yet).

Coming soon:

  • My subtlety for the upcoming coronation
  • Viking Treasure Necklace (an A&S entry for an upcoming event)
  • Bacchus Wood seal (an A&S entry for an upcoming event)
  • and the thing that has been taking up my time: the construction of 150 tokens for coronation (this one is a tale and a half).

The construction of the last should be completed this week, which will give me a chance to work on my own projects once more.  This is somewhat imperative, as I have a gambeson and a lot of garb to complete for Great Northern War, which is not very far away at all.

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