Monday, June 27, 2011

Finishing Fingerloop Braid Laces with Beeswax

Recently, Heidi asked about alternative methods of finishing laces when aglets (metal lacing points) aren't available. I'd like to re-post my answer here with some additional information in response to a concern that was raised.

I finish all my fingerloop laces with beeswax. I don't know the true period, authenticity of using beeswax for this purpose, but it makes reasonable sense and it works.

With the ending knot still in place, dip the section before the knot (where you intend to cut) into the wax. Blow on it to cool it while you pull the lacing tight. Once the wax is cool and you can touch it, trim off the knot, leaving about a half-inch of wax at the cut end. Roll it in your fingers until it takes the pointed shape and the wax is set. The wax will spread up the lace a bit while you're working it. The beeswax stays pliable (unlike paraffin wax) but will hold the lacing together. If it starts to lose its point, simply rub it back into one with your fingers. I've never had to re-wax any of my laces- even my most used ones.

The concern that was raised was that the wax may liquify and stain your garb at hot summer events. It occured to me that others might have the same concern, so rather than answer it in a comment on someone else's blog, I though it deserved an answer on my own.

I can assure you that I don't have wax spots on my garb! (What sort of dimwit would I be if I kept using beeswax if it ruined all my garb?!) I tuck the end of the cord down inside my dress, next to my cleavage to keep it out of the way. It gets pretty warm in there, and I've never had the wax turn liquid. Even at hot summer events. It's not like there's a whole candle's worth of wax on it- it's just a light coating that's very thin. Plus, the oil and even trace amounts of dirt on your fingers rubs off on the wax as you work it into the point, effectively creating a coating on top of the wax.

Most times, your lacing ends aren't getting the kind of direct heat (like from a flame) that's likely to cause the wax to do much more than slightly soften, and since beeswax doesn't "sweat" like a piece of cheese might, there isn't a resulting stain. Remember that beeswax is not the same as paraffin wax- which is a petroleum byproduct- and beeswax has a higher melting point. In addition, consider that linen and silk hand-sewing threads are coated with beeswax to prevent them from fraying- if there was a chance that the wax could stain the fabric, that practice would have stopped long ago!

I'll also point out the my lace ends are always tuck in- hidden from view. The beeswax method isn't particularly aesthetic, so it's obviously not going to replace an aglet for dangling laces.

Obviously, there are always exceptions to every rule- I can only speak from personal experience. My mother also uses wax tipped laces and has also never had a melting or staining problem. However, I don't want anyone sending me nasty notes about how my beeswax method ruined their garb, so use this method at your own risk. Remember that you have to work the wax into a thin coating into the lace and up from the end. Do a test lace and wear it with an older piece of garb first to make sure the the beeswax points work for you. Treat your laces with respect- don't put them in a place in which the wax is close to its melting point. For me, the rare chance that my lace might stain my garb is worth the risk to save money- a pure, natural beeswax candle can be purchased from several different sources and one taper candle melted down into a votive can last for years if you reserve it for your laces. Just make sure that it's a chemical and preservative free beeswax.

If nothing else, it's worth a try in a pinch- you can always cut the waxed end of the lace off and try a different lacing point. But like I said, it works for me, it's how all my laces are finished, and until someone raised the concern, the wax melting and causing stains never even registered as an issue for me.

Not to mention that a little bit of warmed beeswax at your bosom would make a nice, subtle perfume!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nothing to Report

This week was mostly reading and not much else, so I've got nothing to report project-wise. I've had a pretty mundane-heavy weekend, so all of the projects I intended to finish up before today haven't even been touched. I do have the huvet close to completion, though, so look for that next week!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Frustrated With Colors

It figures that the color I finally settle on for my underdress, Rust from Fabric-Store.com, is an impossible color to match. I need a silk yarn for the fingerlooped lacing. The closest I can locate is Rainbow Gallery's Elegance Silk in Pumpkin, which is much lighter than the fabric.

I also need silk thread for the finish stitching on the underdress. I'm completely in love with the linen thread I got from Wm. Booth Draper, which I've been using on the huvet, and that I'll be using for my (hidden) constriction stitching on everything else. They have a couple different red silk threads, and it looks like the closest match, the madder red, is available in the buttonhole twist. I'm not sure that the buttonhole twist is the best choice for the other finishing, though. I would settle for using a linen for the finishing of the seams and hems, and reserving the silk for the buttonholes and eyelets, but finding a color match in linen is proving difficult as well. Londonberry's Terra Cotta comes in a 50/3 weight, which would be suitable, but once again the color isn't a close match. The next darker, Redwood, is too red. Wm Booth's madder red in the linen is a bit too red also.

Then there's Au ver a Soie's Soie Gobelin, which is the perfect weight, but no one in the domestic US seems to sell color #614, which would be a near exact match.

Grumble. Grumble.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Garb Quest- Some Progress


I spent some time yesterday working on my huvet, and now it's ready for the embroidery along the front edge. I had already decided that I didn't want to do the diagonal stitches on the Saint Birgitta's cap, which Machteld reproduced recently. I thought perhaps a chevron stitch, done in two lines would be nice, but I couldn't find any real information about the stitch to date it to the 15th century. I settled on the herringbone stitch, which is pretty plain, but relatively easy. I don't like that the stitch is pretty loose, though. So when I was doing some sample stitches to help me make a decision, I randomly stitched across a few of the X's in the stitch to tack them down. It made the overall stitch look tighter, and also added a nice but simple flourish. So now I'm just brainstorming the best way to keep the stitches even without having to resort to marking up the linen or using more than the 8 straight pins I allotted myself for the garb quest.

This morning I decided to sacrifice one of my purple linen hose for the sake of a pattern. I marked out the changes I needed to make to the pattern while I wore it, then cut along my new lines. I uses a scrap piece of flannel and made a new mockup that I'll keep as my pattern. The fit is nice, though the ankle isn't as tight as I'd like. If I made it tighter, though, I won't be able to get my heel through when I put it on.


I really need to be meticulous when I sew the gussets on. I made the same mistake on both when I sewed the mockup together this morning- my stitches at the top were visible when I turned it inside out and flattened it. I think I'm stitching too far in at the top point. Sewing nice clean gussets is pretty important on the hose, so I'm thinking that I need to pull out some scraps and practice a few times.

Speaking of practice, I did a quick little button hole yesterday as well and it turned out really well. I've never done button holes by hand, so that's pretty encouraging. I made the hole itself too small, but the buttonhole stitch was nice and even. I'm not going to rest on that, though- I need to do some more practice. I also need to practice making the buttons. So maybe I'll just do the whole shebang- make the button, stitch it on, then sew the button holes. I'd rather take the time to practice on scraps than wing it and screw it up on the real deal.

The final project for this weekend is to get the measurements for the smock together, and maybe marked out on the linen. I've settled on the pattern, and since the smock is loose in the body, I need to get it done soon- before my baby belly really starts to get in the way. I already know that the gowns will have to wait (since I can't be guaranteed that my fitted pattern will still be right after I have the baby), so everything else needs to be done before December, including the accessories I've decided to make myself.

Productivity is nice- even if it only comes in spurts.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Conducting Research

A year ago, I received the Middle Kingdom's Order of the Silver Oak award which is given for beginner level skill in a science. My science was research- specifically the research I've done into women's period headwear, but I consider research in general to be my interest in the Society. Not too long ago, I sat in at a round table discussion on research at an event, and though it wasn't as lively as I think the moderators hoped it would be, it did raise a question I'd like to answer here. In the process of answering this question, I'd like to share with you my personal research perspective as well.

Q: How do you get to that point when you take all the "on paper" research you've done and turn it into action?

A: While it is true that research usually begins "on paper" or with your face planted in a book or two on the subject, the true value of research is that it brings about a scientific process that, in one way or another, requires experiment. That's why many branches of the SCA consider research to be a science instead of an art. Experiment doesn't always have to be a messy process (though it certainly can be in some cases, such as period cooking). Experiment in this case means something a bit more cerebral- finding a hypothesis and proving or negating it.

If you've truly been doing research, even just the "on paper" kind, you've probably already formulated at least one hypothesis. The trick is to recognize it. Fundamentally, you need to think about everything you've learned thus far in terms of provability (or at least acceptable theory). The best example I can give, which most SCA researchers will run across, is proving or disproving a statement made by someone else (scholar, historian, re-creator, me, etc.) that you've accepted as a workable hypothesis. For instance, perhaps you read somewhere, "Medieval sumptuary laws prohibited the wearing of cloth of gold by all but the royal family." This is a pretty reasonable statement, and seems to be a workable hypothesis. For all intents and purposes, you believe it. But what's the source for this statement? Did it come with a footnote or citation? How did the author of this statement arrive at it? If you can ask these questions about your hypothesis, and realize you don't have an answer to any one of them, your real research is at the starting gate.

In some cases, such as the example above, a hypothesis may be provable simply through more reading. In such instances, your reading would start to narrow in on primary or extant sources. (If it doesn't, you're not doing real research- you're just hobby reading.) You're not necessarily experimenting in this proving method, but you are employing a scientific processes nonetheless. You're locating at least one primary source for the hypothesis and verifying that it supports it.

In most cases, though, a more traditional form of experiment is required. Let's say you've formulated a hypothesis on your own, through reading and observation of primary artwork and extant examples, that goes something like: "The set-in sleeve as we recreate it today uses a greater curve amplitude than those used in during the 14th and 15th century." You've established your sources- many primary and a few others from scholarly publications, but actually proving it requires action. You must make a set in sleeve using the shallower curve your hypothesis suggests, and prove that it matches your primary sources.

If you've been doing research- true, hypothesis formulating research- and you haven't experienced a natural reaction to go into action, there's one of three things going on. 1) You're lazy; 2) You're not serious about your hypothesis; or 3) You're afraid of being proven wrong. All three of these are unpleasant, but are a reality. It can be hard to admit when you're being lazy, but if you've been making statements and perpetuating them without proving them simply because the proving process requires more effort than you want to invest, you've definitely taken a turn down the lazy path. I think it's safe to say that most people who haven't hit the action stage don't fit this category, but it's a very easy one to fall into, even if just for a short time.

The second inaction category, not being serious, is also easy to fall into, especially in a re-creation group like the SCA. Groups with a casual attitude about authenticity almost seem to encourage taking a non-serious approach to researching your topic of interest. That's not to say that good, quality, hypothesis proving research isn't recognized and rewarded. More to the point is that side-steps to your research that fit the general (or "popular") mentality are usually well-received if not well-researched. An example of this is: Your hypothesis has suggested that Norsemen used half-round cloth banners for the "heraldic" display of their time, but the popular thought among the Norse persona in your Kingdom is that the quarter-round banner is correct, so, because you're not serious about your hypothesis, you make a quarter-round banner instead.

The last one is probably the most populous, but not everyone has the same reason for being afraid of being proven wrong. Some people don't want to be proven wrong out of an overblown sense of ego. Those people are probably not reading this blog. They've formulated their hypothesis and they're running with it, unproven, because they decided that it works for them and there's no point in changing. These people are most likely falling in one or both of the other categories as well. The other people in this category, however, have more innocent reasons to be afraid. I find myself in this category every time I'm ready to prove my hypothesis with a piece of very expensive material. I don't want to be proven wrong because I don't want my money (and to a lesser extent, time) go to waste. It certainly does take a major amount of suck-it-up gusto to get out of this, but if you're not lazy and you're serious about your research, you'll do it. Another way to be in this category is simply out of a fear of embarrassment. No one likes to admit that they were wrong, and some people can take having to do so very much to heart. They best thing I can say to those people is this: if you've done all the work up to this point, and the only thing standing between you and proving you hypothesis is your inaction, have confidence in your research thus far. Explore all the other avenues you can (have you found primary sources that back you up?). If you have a body of research to support you, you lessen the chances that your hypothesis is a dud. Not only that, but all failure is an opportunity to learn- take what you can from your experiment and formulate a new hypothesis.

The bottom line, and the short answer to the question, is this: Research requires action, namely through experimentation. If you're not turning "on paper" research into action, either you haven't formulated any hypothesis to work from yet, or you've fallen victim to one of the three inaction categories above.

I know this was kind of a serious one, thanks for sticking with me to the end!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Garb Quest - Fabric Choices...Once Again

I kinda let a week slip by there, didn't I? Sorry about that!

A large amount of my time these past two weeks has been spent on the research aspect of my Garb Quest and doing some initial edits to my roughly sketched out documentation. I find that I'm at a particularly interesting point in the compiling of my documentation that I know what needs to be said, but I need to locate a credible source to verify the statement. It's a lot of trolling around Google's Book search and checking to see if I can get certain books through my local library loan system. I'm taking anything I can get at this point that has anything remotely to do with any aspect of my quest, which has resulted in a few interesting diversions (such as a history of business in the middle ages). I have been surprised, however, by the very limited number of books dealing with medieval tailoring and sewing techniques. Every reference I've been able to locate though Google has lead me to the Museum of London "Textiles and Clothing" book. This can't be the only source for this information!

I have only written a small percentage of the documentation thus far, and I am continually making edits throughout, but it's turning out to be quite a treatise. My rough estimate, and not including any images, puts it around 50 pages when complete. That's a pretty hefty bit of documentation, and it's making me a bit worried. I can sometimes be verbose, and I've done a fair amount of editing already to try to stick with the barest editorializing, but I don't want to sacrifice my voice for the sake of a tidy little paper. I'm spending countless hours (and I've already dropped a pretty penny) on this project- it deserves as many pages as I can give it. I think I'll contact the Regional Minister of Arts & Sciences, though, and express my concern that, if I present the entry with a 50+ page long documentation, I'm going to get stuck with judges they could afford to "lose" for the day (as in they wouldn't make good judges for any other entry anyway), but that are not necessarily the best judges for the entry.

I have also given another thought to the colors of the dresses, based on some of the things my research has pointed out, and have reconsidered whether I should line the overkirtle or not. You might remember that I polled my readers a while back with the choice of a blue, pink or peach underdress, and the blue dress won. I was perfectly fine with the choice, as I was thinking that I would use the ginger linen as a lining for the navy blue wool, and that would create a color barrier between the two blues. I have since then realized that not lining the wool is both an acceptable alternative (based on the number of apparently unlined overkirtles found in period artwork), but also makes sense in terms of re-creation. If I don't line the wool, I have more of an opportunity to wear it during the year, rather than restricting it to just the cool months. If I don't line it, however, that eliminated the color barrier, and I'm not sure I can get behind a double blue outfit.

The original plan was to line the blue underdress with a rust-colored linen, but I recently decided that I didn't want to waste the rust as a lining. Plus, a natural linen would be more suitable for the lining of the underdress (another realiation derived from my research.) The ginger linen, though not a natural linen, would be suitable as a lining, as the color is easily achieved, and would have been fairly inexpensive. More than that, using a cheaply dyed linen would have been preferable to my persona over using an undyed linen, if for no other reason than because she could easily afford it.

So I was still stuck with two blue dresses. Then I decided to take a look at using the rust linen instead of the blue for the underdress. The rust has a very strong red hue, rather than being a more yellow-toned orange, but it contrasts against the navy in a nice way.


Going this route provides me with two good things. First, it allows me to finish the two dresses in two different ways. With the wool unlined, I can show my knowledge of seam finishing, while still showing that I know how to do a lining on the underdress. Second, I make better use of the colored linen, and even reduce the whole outfit by a layer.

I haven't been doing too much actual work on any of the pieces. I had to start over once again on the huvet, but I was getting frustrated at the odd shape of my own head that I had to put it down and work on something else for a while. I also haven't returned to the hose, figuring I'd better stick with one piece at a time. I think I'm comfortable with the huvet's shape now, though, so I'll get back to that and make it ready for the embroidered front binding and loop (which I still need to create). Before I do the band, though, I'll probably go back to the hose. That will give me an opportunity to find the exact embroidery technique I'd like to use on the band.

I've also done the preliminary pattern plan for the smock. I'm using compilation of a few patterns from The Medieval Tailor's Assistant. The body will be basic rectangular construction (with gores), but the sleeves will be a bit more tailored by using a lozenge gusset in the underarm, instead of the traditional square, and by cutting the shoulder seam on an angle toward the neck. The neckline will be pretty low and wide on that, which means I've got to be really careful. I don't have a good track record when it comes to cutting very specific necklines.

In my frustration with the huvet, I moved on to doing two mundane baby quilts for the twins I've been meaning to make (they're almost done- just need the bindings put on.) Then I started a new brick stitch embroidery that I'll reveal more about when it's complete. I need to be really diligent- I've got a few too many balls up in the air at the moment, and too many projects not getting finished. That's a dangerous cycle, you know.