Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ceiling Wax...

Ellie's getting married soon and wanted to use wax seals on the wedding invitations, so we set out in search for some sealing wax and eventually found some (although the clerk initially thought we'd asked for something for the ceiling…).

I grabbed a spoon and a small lamp as, in the good old days, this was how one melted sealing wax; and I didn't trust the newfangled wick thingy in the middle of the wax stick.  We melted about a spoonful and then tried to pour it onto the paper - it was a lot thicker than I remembered and most of it clung to the spoon like a preteen girl to a One Direction photo; so we thought we'd try lighting the wick and melting it that way (and just put up with the inevitable traces of carbon through the wax >.<)

Napalm.  Burning plastic falling from the heavens.  Setting fire to the paper.  Repeatedly.  We peeled off the small amount that we'd spooned onto the paper previously and found it flexible (WTF??) and very unlike the old-style sealing wax - it didn't even smell right LOL!  Tried breaking a bit off the stick to melt in the spoon and found that the stick was soft and bendy… Bloody plastic!  With bloody wax on the outside!


We'll make some ourselves.

How hard can it be?


From memory, sealing wax was originally (at least, in the twelfth/thirteenth centuries) a  mixture of beeswax and resin but I wasn't sure of the ratio.  We made some up 1:1 and then deserted the greasy mess for the internet and tried to find a hint as to how much beeswax to how much resin to use, but all the recipes were for post-1600 wax which included shellac and, frequently, vegetable turpentine.

Eventually we settled into experimental mode, and tried a 2:1 (resin to beeswax, still too soft and oily), a 3:1 (looked too oily), 4:1…  and the 3:1 set and was just right >.< so added more wax to the 4:1 mix to bring it back to 3:1.  The resin was a yellow/orange colour, and the beeswax was stuff I'd scored from a hive and then rendered quite a few times (and was the colour of putty) so even without any dye added the sealing wax looked like caramel.  The only powdered dye we had in the house was an antique and venerable pot of Dylon 'Autumn Glory' (which was a lovely 1970s burnt orange and probably dated from about then, too) so we mixed a little of that in, reheated the wax for the fourth or fifth time, and ended up with something that looked like poor-quality chocolate… I think we overcooked it.  A lot.

We tested it with the seal, figured we had the proportions right, made a solemn vow to get some red powder dye, then spent half an hour cleaning up the kitchen…  But we now have 'real' (if poo-coloured) sealing wax :-)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The past year

The past 10 months has been a production line of making Things Medieval - research, sourcing materials, putting it all together; sewing interspersed with woodwork, embroidery spelled by leatherwork… you get the picture.

We were very fortunate in our op-shopping to come across a variety of crockery that would pass as 'period' - there's always room for improvement and it'll be upgraded as we go, but it's enough to start off with :-)

I was very excited to find some pewter spoons, and with a little adjustment with a file I now have the first set of period metal spoons I've had in 20-odd years of re-enacting (sad, isn't it?).

Decorations from old costumes were recycled - another thing to upgrade once we have time...

Some things were made from scratch - my tunic is a silk brocade, a copy of a twelfth century Sicilian brocade; the collar pattern comes from a bowl of the period and the cuff pattern from a column head.  They're worked in Opus Anglicanum-style laid-and-couched gold thread, embroidered, and beaded with carnelian, citrine, malachite, turquoise, coral, and pearls (mainly freshwater, but grandmother's Mikimoto cultured pearls are in there, too).

One of the silliest things I ever heard was a long-standing re-enactor informing a newcomer that the pearls on her costume were "the wrong size"…  Tell that to the oysters ;-)

We've even got together a collection of toys for the kids - documentation for toys in our period is a little bit thin on the ground, so we've had to rely on what came before and what came directly after the early 13th century.

An interesting find in Big W - the original earring is gold ;-)

It occurs to me that we've spent much more timing making things than photographing them - as it should be :-)

It's been a long time...

Spoiler warning: semi-biographical and very little historical content ;-)

I didn't realise how long.  Ellie had a daughter in late 2010,  Dad passed away in 2011 :-( ; Sam and Colin came back from Canada, had a baby, and returned there in 2012.  Ellie, Will and the kids moved up from Tassie in 2013.  Nat, Rob and I pootled along with Oltramar as a tentful of static displays, which suited us well enough as Three People Does Not Make An Encampment ;-)

Ellie, the kids and I went along to History Alive 2014 and Abbey 2014 as members of the public - an odd experience for a re-enactor! - and The Family sat down afterwards and decided that Oltramar needed a little remodelling…  The 25-thousand-word-essay-in-an-ugly-canvas-cover had been an interesting experiment - no one had done it before, I had a good amount of public interest, and it was heartening to see other groups start to use written displays; but there were now enough of us to have a functioning encampment.  Ellie and I sat down and sketched out what we thought we'd want in an encampment, and what social aspect of medieval life we'd like to display.  We decided to stay in Cyprus, and to enhance the visual aspect of our display (let alone making research easier) we decided to portray an 'upper-crust' extended family, travelling somewhere…   Rob and Will were re-enacting with The Templars,  who generously invited us to be their 'pilgrims' that they were escorting to Jerusalem in 1229.  Having the 'where', the 'why' and the 'who', we now had to work out the 'how' - we needed another tent (for Ellie, Will and the kids), mine and Nat's costumes needed upgrading and Ellie and Will needed costumes from scratch (they'd been doing Viking re-enactment in Tassie); Rob's costumes had worn out, and the kids had none at all.  Our plates and cups and serving gear were all very… middle class ;-) and the hangings needed upgrading, the chairs repainting, another small table here, a pavilion to sit under… and we had 10 months until HA2015.

Ellie and I drew up a battle plan (fondly known as The Bloody List) and started measuring, sewing, researching, embroidering and op-shopping.  We enlisted the help of Nat, Will and Rob to do odd tasks they were suited for (and had time for - there's not a lot of that when one is a teacher) but by and large we made building the new group our 'job' (in between coping with our respective bipolar disorders and Ellie being a Mum).

Now we're just under a month out from our first show (in our new format!) and The Bloody List has been whittled down to something (hopefully) manageable.

And I really should look back over the last year of photos, and blog about it ;-)