About this notebook

I’ve set up this web site to collect the notes from my various SCA research projects. This site is more than a blog — please explore the menus above for research, classes, music, etc., and scroll down to see my latest notes. I hope you find something useful or amusing here!

Lady Ysabel da Costa, Barony of CarolingiaEast Kingdom

Minerva and the Muses, Frans Floris 1560
Minerva and the Muses, Frans Floris, 1560

Mini-colcha completed!

I’ve finally finished my mini-colcha project! The embroidery and quilting stitches were all done with my handspun single-ply tussar silk. I’ve applied a backing layer of silk, as on my historic model, but I didn’t add a fringed edge. The cotton and silk fabrics for this project were handloomed in India.

The finished mini-colcha
View of the silk backing fabric

Singles v.s. two-ply embroidery thread

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of embroidery samples done with handspun tussar silk threads. The thread on the left is singles (1-ply), and the thread on the right is 2-ply.

Singles on the left; 2-ply on the right.

The singles thread is glossier and more reflective, and it appears noticeably lighter in color than the 2-ply, although both threads were spun from the same fiber supply. The difference is even more apparent when the pieces are viewed in person.

La Traditora – 4 part arrangement

La traditora, first of 4 versions for lute. Marco dall’Aquila, D-Mbs:Bayrische Staatsbibliothek, Munich MS 266:Herwart MS (1560), f. 33v.

La Traditora was a piece of dance music popular throughout the 16th century. Many arrangements and variations survive, including complete 4-part settings and lute solos and duets. None have lyrics, despite the suggestive title.  La Traditora is the name of a dance in the Il Papa manuscript (which probably dates from the second decade of the 16th century). Other early versions are sometimes labeled “Salterello”, and later ones “Galliard”. La Traditora is the first galliard mentioned in the French dance manual Orchésographie (Thoinot Arbeau, 1589).

This arrangement, based on several historic sources, is suitable for a four-part recorder ensemble or mixed consort. The Waytes of Carolingia have used this as our default galliard music for the past two years. It’s fun to play; each of the parts has something interesting.

Narrow inkle bands

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, I acquired an Ashford Inklette loom, with the intent of making narrow woven bands to use as top back ties for sari blouses. It has been a fun alternative to lucet as a way to occupy my hands and relieve stress.

Here are three 1/4″ bands made using 10/2 Tencel thread that I dyed with natural dyes of India: madder (rubria cordifolia), myrobalan, turmeric, and indigo. These colors go with the natural-dyed khadi fabrics of the blouses I’m making — perhaps I’ll use the same threads to add matching embroidered sleeve borders. There’s also a skinny 1/8″ ribbon for my legacy Maunche medallion, using DMC pearl cotton embroidery floss in purple and yellow.

Mini-colcha progress report

Having lately resumed my mini-colcha project after a long hiatus due to the lockdown-driven demands of my mundane job, I’ve now arrived at a point where I can post a progress report. The central figures are all in place; the next step is to fill in the border design. In the final stage, I’ll quilt this piece to a second layer of cotton using backstitch to fill the background space, as in my historic model.

I’m pleased with how this is coming along so far. The handspun tussar silk singles thread I’m using has a nice gloss that successfully reproduces the (now faded) golden sheen of my model. My work is not as fine and regular as the spectacular original (a professionally produced export item), but I do think it conveys the overall look and feel of the historic piece — as it would have looked when it was new and unfaded.

Sizing handspun silk singles for embroidery: first experiments

For my mini-colcha embroidery project, I’m using handspun tussar silk singles as floss. After some experiments, I found that using 2-ply floss doesn’t capture the sheen and twist of the silk in my historic model as well as singles floss. However, it’s hard to embroider with handspun singles. The yarn untwists, gets fuzzy, and loses integrity pretty rapidly.

So I’m sizing (starching) my singles before embroidering with them. It’s traditional in India to size cotton singles for weaving, especially for use as warp; see Stephenie Gaustad’s article about sizing cotton singles for weaving. I didn’t find any references to sizing silk embroidery thread, so I did an experiment in March 2019, documented in the paper below.

After that experiment, I sized and blocked a 20-yard skein of tussar silk singles floss, using the medium liquid starch recipe that I selected as the most successful from the experiment.

Recipe for medium immersion sizing:  Dissolve 1 Tbsp Argo laundry starch in 1 Tbsp water until all lumps are gone.  Add 1 cup water; bring to a boil for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and dilute with 2 cups cold water.  Use this solution lukewarm (silk is damaged by high heat).

The sized floss is great to embroider with. But now I’ve used it all up, and attempts to cut corners by using hair gel were not successful (don’t ask). I need to make more immersion-sized floss. I’ve been putting it off because handling the wet floss is a mess; it gets sticks to itself and gets tangled when I take it out of the starch solution and unwind it for blocking.

This morning I thought of a new approach. I’ve just ordered a couple of PVC plastic embroidery frames — I saw these for the first time at last weekend’s Embroidery Schola. I’ll wind my newly-spun singles onto the frames, immerse them in a shallow pan of starch solution, and then hang the frames to dry. Hopefully that will avoid the problem of trying to block the wet singles — they’ll be pre-blocked before I wet them.

Two-color lucet cord with one thread

Continuing my yarn-dyeing experiments, today I dyed thread designed for making two-color lucet cord.

5/2 cotton thread tie-dyed with marigold and indigo, for Carolingia’s heraldic yellow and blue.
  • Wind plain thread into skeins on a 1-yard niddy-noddy, or use skeins of purchased thread.
  • Tie-dye the skeins with the first color by wetting them out, then wrapping fairly large sections with rubber bands or plastic wrap and scotch tape. I double up the skein and wrap the middle section, leaving the ends to take the dye.
  • Remove the wraps and re-tie the skein to cover the dyed portions and expose the undyed portions. Then dye with the second color.
  • Unwrap and admire!

Wrapping small or large sections will produce short or longer color bands in the finished lucet cord, of course.

This time, I used marigold instead of turmeric and anar (pomegranate rind) for my yellow. Unlike turmeric, marigold requires a mordant, but it makes a bright clear yellow that is closer to what I had in mind. Of course, you could use modern dyes to get even brighter colors, if you prefer.

I will do the next batch with a thicker thread, since I like making thick cushy lucet cord. And I’ll increase the proportion of marigold flowers, to try to achieve a deeper yellow.

Peg people of the SCA

In response to a call for contributions to the East Kingdom toy box, I’ve been painting peg people. I got a bit carried away, and many of them are portraits (if one can do such a thing with a peg doll). The armored peg people have SCA heraldic devices on their shields; the name of the device’s owner is written on the bottom of the peg (hat tip to the EK Wiki populace armorial).

Mini-colcha embroidery design sketch

For the next phase of my embroidery project, I’ve decided to make a mini-colcha instead of a sari blouse. My sources indicate that the monochrome embroidery style of my historic model was used in the 16c and 17c for decorative objects and export textiles, whereas a polychrome sari blouse such as the one described in Chandimangal would more likely have been made in a style closer to modern kantha embroidery.

My embroidery will be a small piece about 14″ square, suitable for a cushion cover. The design sketch is based on elements from the monochrome Bengal colcha I examined at the Boston MFA, and I will try to match the materials and stitches of the model as closely as I can. Traces of charcoal have been found on some period colchas, so I drew the sketch in charcoal pencil.

Mini-colcha design sketched out in charcoal pencil on handspun, handwoven unbleached cotton fabric.

My design features four animal motifs, floral filler, and a geometric border, all copied freehand from my model colcha. The Bengal tiger and spotted deer are native to the Ganges delta region. The pair of loving parrots and the snake-eating peacock are Hindu motifs; both are mentioned several times in the Chandimangal. The border and floral elements are just indicated for placement, not fully drawn out. I will add details freehand during the embroidery process, as I did for the first-draft project. Most of the design will be worked in chain stitch; I will also use backstitch to fill the empty spaces between figures.

For the base fabric, I purchased some handspun, handwoven, unbleached khadi cotton fabric from India. It’s similar to commercial cotton muslin, but a little lighter in weight and less tightly woven. Although my model appears to be stitched through multiple layers, I’ve decided to work my main design on one layer of fabric for ease of handling. I’ll add a second layer of fabric later, either when I do the background fill or after the embroidery is complete.

For embroidery floss, I will use natural tussar silk thread that I’m spinning on a book charka. Tussar silk singles embroidery floss is not commercially available, so I can only obtain it by spinning it myself.

I’ve chosen to use singles floss rather than two-ply for several reasons. First, the thread used in my historic model doesn’t appear to be plied. Second, it’s much faster to spin singles, and I do need a lot of floss. Third, I’ve done some experiments with sizing my handspun floss and found that appropriately-sized singles are just as easy (or difficult) to work with as two-ply. Finally, the finished embroidery has a glossier appearance when singles are used.