Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chapter Three: In Which Edyth Gains a Family

It might help to read Chapter One & Chapter Two first.

In the Middle Kingdom (and I'm sure other Kingdoms), a student is like a man-at-arms. There's an agreed associate between Master and student, but it's not formal. On the books, I was a student for 9 months. In reality, it had been clear to both of us fairly early on that something more formal was going to happen. Even better than that, we agreed pretty quickly that we wanted to go about it a certain way. So here, at the end of my tale, is how I became an apprentice to Master Cellach McChormach.

Interestingly enough, as he and I discussed what an apprenticing ceremony might be for us, we agreed that it would be best done as a business transaction. So yes, I'd spent all this time realizing that being somebody's apprentice wasn't just all business, but there we were, agreeing to start the whole thing off that way. It made a huge amount of sense to us, though. First, apprentice contracts are period. Second, an apprenticing is a civil relationship, so an oath like what would be done for a squiring felt out of place.

Period apprenticing contracts are interesting things. They dictate what behaviors each party would be allowed and/or required to do, both in the relationship and as people just living their lives. Women apprentices, for example, were often expressly forbidden in their contract to marry. And most medieval no-no's (like gambling or engaging in lewd behavior) were also highlighted as things not to do under contract. The contract is worked up twice, on each side of a single sheet. After signing and sealing, the contract is cut apart in a zig-zag or otherwise uneven line so that the two piece could be matched back up to prove their authenticity if needed. This jagged cut was known as "indenturing", so a contract of this type (and the relationship it dictated) could be referred to as an "indenture".

We asked my mom, THL Elspeth Clerk, to create the contract for us. Unlike most extant contracts, we liked the idea of a simple illumination in the center, so she created (knowing it would be cut) a vine band centered on a blue stag (a charge on His Excellency's device).

For the sealing, I created a silk fingerloop ribbon in my colors, and he made sealing wax using beeswax and frankincense. A simple die created for coins acted as his seal.

Border Raids, on May 16th, was wet. It rained on the way there. It rained when we started setting up. It rained during the battles. It even rained into our car. This wouldn't have been a problem, except that the contract was sitting (we thought safely) in the backend. Which was steadily turning into a puddle as the rain trickled through a crack in the roof. The scroll case could have been waiting for us anywhere else in the car, and would have been fine. But no.

I'm very proud of everyone involved in the discovery and rescue of the document. Nobody panicked or totally lost it. The scribes on duty that day came to our aid, drying the contract and pressing it to keep the wrinkles at bay. I'm so thankful to them and their quick thinking. And I'm so proud of my mom for everything she did to create the scroll and for not crying when she discovered it's state.

Comfortable with the fact that we at least still had a contract to sign, even if it was damaged, here's how the ceremony went down:

Master Cellach started everything by explaining what we were going to do and a bit about the use of indentures in period. It was important to us both that when we were in the moment of actually doing the apprenticing we weren't mixing mundane explanations with period practices. So when he finished with the information, he requested that we all shift our minds to being medieval.

After asking me if I was ready to proceed, I requested that the contract be read out loud so that our witnesses would know what it was we were about to agree to. He was adamant that he should read the contract rather than the printed text (still taped to the back), even with the damage. I have to give him props for that. Here's what the contract says:

"This indenture witnesses that Edyth Miller of Fenix places herself in apprentice to Master Cellach macChormach of the Middle Marches to learn what arts as she may and to serve him after the manner of an apprentice from the 14th day of the reign of Ragnvaldr III and Arabella III, and she shall not be released save by word of one of the said parties, or through her attaining mastery of her craft. During which term the said Edyth shall strive to be an eager and dedicated student to learn and further her craft and shall serve the said Cellach as master in all things lawful and honest, well and faithfully, courteously and diligently to the best of her power. She shall honestly and obediently bear and hold herself both in words and deeds towards her said Master and all his with dignity as a good and faithful apprentice ought according to the custom of the Kingdom of the Middle during all the said term. And the said Cellach shall keep the said Edyth as his apprentice and shall freely teach that which he knows, provide guidance and support in her endeavors, treat her with dignity and respect, and for her fidelity and all and singular aforesaid covenants on her part shall protect her from those who might do her harm. In witness whereof the aforesaid parties have set their hands."

Our wording differs from the period contracts in that we treated in more like an oath. We did not include specific behaviors (like me getting married) or things that he had to provide (like fabric or clothing). We like it this way, since it was much more comfortable for us to sign it, knowing that we weren't agreeing to anything we had no right to demand from each other.

After reading the contract, he asked me if I was still in agreement with it. Essentially, he was asking if I still wanted to be his apprentice. I agreed.

Using pen and ink (dip-style nibs), we signed the two sides together. Nobody got close enough to photograph our signatures. Which is a shame, really, since I'd been practicing.

I'd been wearing the ribbon I made on my arm, so I removed it and explained to our witnesses that the ribbon was to act as my authentic mark in place of a seal. I folded the ends of the contract up to protect the signatures. Then I cut the ribbon in half and threaded it through slits already cut into the contract. The wax had been melting over a candle up to that point, and was ready to be poured over the ribbon and pressed with the seal. It did have to sit a moment, but it dried pretty quickly.

While the seals set up, he proceeded with the markings of my association with him. First, since I don't typically wear belts (full disclosure: I had been wearing a belt all day before changing to keep my skirts out of the mud), rather than giving me a green belt as a symbol of my apprenticeship, he had made a green wool open hood for me. (Which is totally awesome.) For the days that I didn't wear the hood, he gave me a brass and enamel badge made in the style of a period funerary badge. It is a green belt encircling his livery of blue and white lozengy. This was made by Lady Faydwynn Randve. (And is also totally awesome.)

About the time I was getting my ribbons into place, Their Majesties joined us. With the seals set and carefully lifted from the tiles with a butter knife, Cellach asked His Majesty if he would do us the honor of indenturing the contract. Using a pair of period scissors, he cut the wavy indenturing line. This left one half with the body of the stag and the other with the stag's head upside down.

With the contract indentured, and gifts given, we concluded the ceremony. Hugging and applause all around.

His Majesty said it best later on in a Facebook comment. "A period ceremony, bringing friends together, making family, and everyone enjoying the experience. THIS is what the SCA is about. Thank you to all who were present."

My heart has been so full. I see this hobby not only from a new perspective, but with a new family by my side. I am no longer afraid. My ego has come to accept and understand that I'm not better than needing help. And I have gained so many new friends that I would have never known if I hadn't reached out. I have a partner I am inspired and encouraged by, and I am ready for the road ahead. However long, and wherever it may take me.

(Photos of the ceremony are courtesy of Countess Vukasin of Lozengia and Lady Marissa von Atzinger.)

[Disclaimer: This is my story and my perspective. I'm sharing it because you, dear reader, are my friend. It's not meant to be taken as advice. It's simply my testimonial.]

Friday, May 22, 2015

Chapter Two: In Which Edyth Obliterates Her Comfort Zone

If you haven't already, please read Chapter One first.

The moment in which I became a student didn't happen at the event that day. As I said, reality can be ill-timed. For a variety of reasons, we were unable to reconnect later in the day to have an actual talk. But in retrospect, that was undoubtedly for the best. My request was out there, hanging in the air for him to consider, and that was exactly where it needed to be. If I'd gotten an immediate yes, I would have been outwardly happy, but inwardly concerned that he was throwing due diligence to the wind, completely negating how much work I'd put into the whole thing up to that point.

In reality, the moment I became a student happened that Monday morning, through a Facebook chat. I hope you can appreciate the irony there.

Some Laurel/student relationships start off as friendships, or at least comfortable familiarity with each other. This new relationship was not one of those. While he and I certainly knew each other, we could barely have been considered personal acquaintances. I'd only ever known him as a Peer. First as a Knight, then Royalty, and finally as a Laurel. And as Chapter One likely told you, having a Peer like that in my circle had been unfathomable to me up to that point.

The honest truth was that, while I was looking for a relationship that was friendly, I really did not expect that an actual friendship would be a part of it. It was enough for me that I liked him as a person (as much as I knew him) as well as a Peer, and that I held him in the greatest respect. In all my thinking through the act of finding a Laurel, I'd only ever seen it as a business transaction. Two partners working toward their goals in tandem.

One by one almost immediately, however, I saw the barriers that separate strangers from friends breaking down between him and I. As in introvert with a capital I, having lived so long under that rock of isolation, I would never have thought myself capable of leaving the comforts of my home and family to spend a weekend in a strange house with a person, a Peer, I still barely knew. But in January, I did exactly that. I talked, listened, laughed and shared. Topics ranged all over, not just about the business of being his dependent. And the more we talked, the weaker the hold my comfort zone had on me.

I'd heard it said before that the relationship between Masters and their dependents, when it was right, was like a "mystical connection." I think that sounds like hokey, new age drivel, but I found myself saying things like "it feels right", "it's weird that we didn't know each other sooner", or "it's going so well." So it may be hokey, but it's apparently true. Under circumstances like that, friendship has no choice but to blossom. At the same time, isolation and worry begin to be replaced by confidence. The barriers begin to become transparent all around. Between Master and student, person and Peer, stranger and stranger. As I gained a friend in him, I looked for friendships with others. I became more comfortable with looking past coronets and medallions, and not waiting to be introduced to people I wanted to know.

A turning point happened for me in March. I was camping with a group other than the Midrealm at Gulf Wars, so after settling in on the first day, I walked over to the Midrealm camp to see if I could be of any assistance. I wasn't, but while I was standing there, I saw three guys I could introduce myself to. One of these guys was a Duke. Without a single shred of anxiety or fear, I introduced myself to him.

The rock I'd been living under? Blown to smithereens. Over the course of the week, as I was introduced to other Peers (and people in general), I wandered so far away from my comfort zone, I wouldn't have been able to find it again with a GPS and a search dog.

Now, I'm not saying that my all my fears had been obliterated. Socially awkward, introverted people will always have moments when they worry about saying the wrong thing or looking like a fool. The difference for me at this point, however, was that I was among friends, and I was realizing that I always had been.

As all these barriers were disappearing, I opened up to my Laurel in deeper, more meaningful ways. And he to me in his own way. The word "comfortable" barely covers it. Through this process of moving from pride and fear to the humility of a new friendship, I had never felt so much at home and in love with this hobby. Being able to openly connect with a person whom you admire and respect, and to be free to laugh and cry with them, look them in the eye and admit your faults, and care for them in ways you can't put into words, without judgement or pressure from anyone, is an amazing experience that very few avenues in life offer us. And there is no possible way I would ever have been able to experience that if I was still clinging to the comfort zone of pride and fear.

With a friendship established, then, and hearts full of joy, it was time for both of us to take one more step.

Tomorrow, read the amazing conclusion in Chapter Three: In Which Edyth Gains a Family.

[Disclaimer: This is my story and my perspective. I'm sharing it because you, dear reader, are my friend. It's not meant to be taken as advice. It's simply my testimonial.]

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chapter One: In Which Edyth Faces Her Fears

Over the next three days, I'm going to share a story with you. And it starts like this:

In October of 2014, I did something pretty scary. I approached a Laurel about becoming an apprentice.

For months prior to that, I'd started to think differently about the SCA and my role within it. For years, I relied on the belief that if I asked someone further down the road for help, it meant that I was giving up. I would be giving up my independence, and completely throwing out the window my ability to reach my goals on my own- to earn them under my own merit. This line of thinking, which was really just my ego taking the lead, had left me feeling alone, ostracized and even afraid. I was gripped by "Peer fear", to an awful degree. By buying into the mistaken belief that accepting friendship and association with anybody with the slightest hint of influence would damage my "self-reliance", I was only making things worse for myself. I was living under a rock, and it was cold and lonely, and the farthest place from The Dream I could get. I was ready to get out from under the rock. I was ready to find out what I was missing.

Eventually, I realized that finding a Laurel and seeing where an apprenticeship took me wasn't sacrificing anything. If the Laurel was right for me, and if I was clear about my goals, then my independence wouldn't be stomped out, and instead of simply earning my goals by myself, I would have a coach to help me reach them, and a cheerleader to keep me going. I would have an advocate, and a sounding board, and in at least some small way, a friend.

So right away, I knew what I wasn't looking for. I wasn't interested in being swallowed up in somebody else's household or overshadowed by their personality (or even the story of their own SCA journey). I didn't want someone that would dictate or direct me toward their own goals instead of mine. Or for what they thought were my goals but really weren't. I didn't want someone I would always feel inferior to, or someone I was never perfectly comfortable around.

And right now, you're reading these things and going "Who would want any of that?!" And you're right, but part of the journey out from under the rock was to recognize these things as fears. By listing them out for myself, I could see how ridiculous they were, and at the same time arm myself against settling for any of them.

Part of the process for me, you see, was getting over a fear I didn't want to admit- the fear that I was worthless, and that I would be forced to settle because none of my top picks would want me as their apprentice. I had been in or around the SCA for 18 years by that point, an active in my local region and kingdom for 12 of them, and no Laurel had ever approached me in all that time. No one came to me and said "Hey, I think you've got a lot of potential, and I'd like to help you reach your goals." Or even anything remotely like that. There's an interesting dichotomy that happens when ego and low-self-esteem collide. I don't recommend it. It's ugly and jealous and sensitive to even the most innocent slight. And it's absolutely no way to play in the SCA.

There is no single journey. No "one true path" to attaining your goals. At some point, I had to look in the mirror and remind myself of this. So what if I'd never been asked by a Laurel to be their apprentice? There were thousands of reasons that would happen, and not all of them were bad. Could it have been because I was already on the right track, and doing quite well on my own as it was? Or that people assumed I was already a dependent? That sort of stuff happens all the time, so why shouldn't it have possibly been the case for me too?

So for months, I'd allowed myself to think through all of this. I day-dreamed with myself about what being out from under the rock might look like. I ran myself through what-ifs and how-comes and why-nots. I had a list of 5 potential Laurels I could ask, ranked in an order, and I vetted the crap out of it. I've never done so much due diligence in my life. That sounds ridiculous to me now, but all that "process" was part of what we can call my rehabilitation- my progress from being scared and alone to being ready to ask for a partner.

I use the word "partner" deliberately, because though all this vetting, I realized that I wasn't just looking for a mentor or teacher. I was looking for somebody who would treat me like an adult, take my perspective seriously, and respect that, with 18 years under my belt, I had already accomplished a great deal. Someone who would celebrate the ways in which we can learn from each other. A partner is a person that recognizes that we're in this together, and rank is really the only thing that separates us. A good partner wants you to be their equal and for the rank barrier to go away.

By April, I'd worked it all out. I had one name on my list that survived the vetting, and I was incredibly confident that it was the right choice for countless reasons I'll keep to myself. But there was still one thing to overcome. Peer fear.

I remember dozens of times between May and October in which I pulled up the chat window on Facebook, and hovered over that one name for minutes at a time. On a few occasions, I actually wrote something, like "Will you be going to Such-n-such Event this weekend? I'd like to have a chance to speak with you if you have time." Then I would stare at it. My hands would shake and my heart would pound in my chest. Warm all over; butterflies. If I've ever come close to an anxiety attack, those moments would be it. It sounds so ludicrous. I wasn't doing anything incorrect. It was good business, and a perfectly acceptable way to go about it. If you've never understood Peer fear, I don't expect this to make sense. For those of you that do, however, I'm sure this is all too familiar.

During this time, I felt the ticking of the clock. Every moment that I wasted by not reaching out was taking me one step closer to going back under that rock. I put pressure on myself to continually answer the question, "What are you so afraid of?" The answer was always the same. I wasn't afraid of changing my course and going in a new direction, nor was I afraid of what being someone's dependent would mean for me. I was afraid of rejection. I was afraid of "no". I was afraid of making a fool of myself. And there really isn't anything to do with that answer but to get comfortable with it. To be alright with the "no" or with saying something stupid. Qué será, será.

That day in October was a pretty weird day, with bitterly cold weather, and a laid-back schedule that reminded me so much of my earliest events- when people gathered in garb to experience something magical together without worrying about how well they fought, or how good they looked. I had just finished my double "midwife" apron, and man was I glad for the extra layer. I was also glad my mom and I had gone by ourselves without any of the kids, especially when it began to snow briefly in the middle of the day. We spent a lot of the day huddled together on the ground by the list field, or tucked inside the lodge near the fireplace.

You know, day dreams and what-ifs only get you so far. They can help you get past fear and pride and all the things holding you back. They can help you recognize what you want and how you want it to happen. But reality is better. Hands down. Reality is not perfect (at least not always). It can be cold, and awkward, and inconveniently timed. But that moment when you take the step off the ledge can only be experienced one way.

I took that step. "I would like to be your apprentice, if you would consider it." No forewarning. No preamble or prologue. A big spoonful of hot soup in his mouth right when I asked it. And I didn't fall into the abyss of rejection. Instead, I heard four words that immediately felt like a hand reaching out and a hug around my soul.

"I would consider it."

Stay tuned for Chapter Two: In Which Edyth Obliterates Her Comfort Zone.

[Disclaimer: This is my story and my perspective. I'm sharing it because you, dear reader, are my friend. It's not meant to be taken as advice. It's simply my testimonial.]

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On My Worktable

As we head into summer (and it's been so hot, it like summer is already here), my project list is starting to thin out. Which is good, because I don't like having too many things on my list when it's time for all that fun family stuff that happens in the summer months. Let's face it, it's more fun to hang out in the pool on a hot day than to sew a dress inside. That being said, I do have a handful on projects in the works that still need attention.

Last week, I started work on the last dress I'll sew for a while (at least until fall). This year has already been incredibly productive on the dress front, but I had one more piece of fabric in my stash that finally "spoke" to me. I've been wanting to have a surcoat for the 1390's since Gulf Wars, and the chocolate brown wool I've had since last year is perfect for it. Yes, yes, I know. Wool in summer. But Gulf Wars allowed me to appreciate that while wool is not ideal for 80+ temps, it's not the worst thing either. As long as I make smart decisions about how I wear a wool dress, and don't stand out in the sun, it's not all that much more uncomfortable than wearing a few layers of linen. After all, hot is hot, not matter how you slice it.

Stab stitching on the edge of the front opening. Buttons and buttonholes pending.
The dress is assembled (I used the same pattern I've been using all year), but is still missing sleeves. Over the next few days, I'll concentrate my efforts on the exterior finishing. My goal with the garment is to achieve well-crafted detailing by putting my hand-sewing skills to best use. 

I have several embroideries in-progress, but I haven't felt like working on them. At the moment, I'm finishing up the last of three Queens' favors I'm contributing for Pennsic. I also have my linen alms purse and silk bag, but I haven't touched either of those in quite a bit.

I started a bag using long-arm cross stitch and a pattern I created from an extant piece. The two sides of the orginal pouch are essentially color reversed, which it neat. The figures are harpies- head of a woman, body of a bird, tail of a snake. Bizarre and beautiful. The spaces between the harpies have letters, but I couldn't distinguish what they are (and they probably don't spell and English word anyway). I haven't figured out what I'll do in the spaces in my version.

The big embroidery project is the tunic I need completed by July 4th. I've shown this in the past, and unfortunately, not much about it has changed. Once my new dress is complete, however, I'm putting the brakes on everything but that tunic. Get-er-done, as they say.

There are other projects of a secretive nature. Hush, hush, and all that. I always have those, though. I try to fit them in when and how I can, but they do definitely fill out the project list.

What about you? What's on your work table?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Video Tutorial: Early 15th Century Horned Veil

The other day I was goofing off with my headdress stash (which I do a pretty fair amount of), when I came across a way of pinning a veil around a shaped foundation piece that resulted in a closer representation of early 15th century veiling than some of my previous attempts without needing to use more than one veil. After a bit more experimentation, I believe I have something useful in sharing, if still not entirely perfect or "accurate". The best way for me to share this is obviously video format, so let's start with that:

Before getting into some source references, let's get the technical details out of the way. The rectangular veil is 27" x 34" and is a mid-light-weight linen (probably 3.5oz). I've shared the horns before, but here's the post where I first shared it, and you can see that I've come a long way!

I referenced that the look was akin to Rogier van der Weyden's "Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress" (circa 1435), so it makes sense to start with that one (below). There are, obviously, some differences, but as I said in the video, using a larger veil and playing around with where you are pinning might bring the look even closer to this example.

"Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress", Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1435

After reviewing my video, though, I was struck by how closely my version ended up being to another of van der Weyden's examples- the female donor in his 1445 "The Crucifixion" triptych (below). In fact, pulling that image up, and comparing to what I was able to create, I am 80% sure that something like my technique is at play. Note the wrinkling of the veil both around the base of the foundation, but also over the top. The horizontal width of the veil in comparison to her shoulder width. The oddness of the draping at the back- something like a fold, rather than a free-flowing hemmed edge.

Detail from "The Crucifixion" (triptych) by Rogier van der Weyden, 1445.
Some examples found in the more allegorical or biblical scenes painted by the early Flemish masters, such as "The Nativity" by Robert Campin, 1420, (detail below), give the very clear impression that some veiled styles used a single veil worked in more than one direction to create a head covering. In the example below, the midwife's assistant, Salome (an Apocryphal inclusion to the nativity story), wears what appears to be a large veil pinned into place from the back around the foundation pieces, then hiked up (rather than flipped all the way back over like mine) to cover the top in messy folds. The bottom of the veil still drapes at the back. If I had a long enough veil, I think this one would be fun to attempt.
Detail from "The Nativity", Robert Campin, 1420
Additionally, there are a handful of examples in Des cleres et nobles femmes (BL MS Royal 20 C V, after 1403), including this one below (sorry about the quality), that show layers of draping between the dog ear corners and the back, consistent with what this method produces. The veil size here is smaller than what I show in the video.

Detail from BL MS Royal 20 C V, fol. 135v.
There's also an example from Thebais and Achilles (BL MS Burney 257, circa 1405.) below with a soft draping across the forehead, between the horns, in keeping with what I'm achieving. The fact that these more curved drapes were being depicted gives hope for the plausibility of this kind of recreation technique.

Detail from BL MS Burney 257, fol. 87v.
As always, I encourage you to not just take my word for it. Experiment on your own with what you have and keep an eye out in the period record for examples to emulate. And, above all, have fun!