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On Bullying

Todd Fischer, Nov. 23rd, 2007

Truly there is no lower form of life than the bully.

From the domineering tyrant on a schoolyard playground to the great evil, Hitler himself, bullies show every day that they are a pox on the rest of society.

I was bullied at school from grades three to grade eleven. I can still remember the first incident on the schoolyard at E. A. Fairmen Public School, when an older student ran up, grabbed my favourite baseball cap off my head and threw it in a puddle. From that time on the hat smelled like fish, and I was a walking mark.

I was different from most other students. Quiet, shy, reading a few grades beyond my own, wearing glasses. To a bully, anything that is different is frightening, and to assuage their own fear they attack. For years I withstood being chased around the school, having my ears flicked in the halls, being made fun off, taunted, ostracized. Luckily, I was strong enough to withstand this torment. I outlived my bullies, and in Grade 12 started physically fighting back. They bullying soon stopped when a punch in the gut followed their smart-ass remark.

I was lucky. Some victims of bullying aren’t so lucky.

I just read in the paper about Shaquille Wisdom, a thirteen year old student in Ajax who was betrayed by his best friend. Told in confidence by Shaquille that he was gay, his friend told others, and soon Shaquille found himself the victim of bullying both at home, and via email and the internet. To escape this never ending torture, Shaquille hung himself from the railing in his home, his body found by his sister, who is now traumatized.

I hope the bullies are happy with themselves. They succeeded in causing pain, so much pain that they ended a life and destroyed several others. They saw someone different, attacked, and killed. Knowing bullies as intimately as I do, they probably ARE happy.

These bullies—the hyenas of humanity—should, if identified, be charged with manslaughter. Words have consequences. Actions have consequences. Everyone—contrary to the world’s current belief—is accountable for their actions and should be held accountable for them.

The taunters, the shovers, the laughers, the haters. Running in their packs because alone they are nothing. Cowards, all of them. Put them up against the wall.

If anyone who reads this is a victim of bullying—and this applies not just to children, many adults are bullied at their jobs, or even in their homes—remember that you are strong. Don’t let the bullies win. Don’t let them grind you down. I suffered on my own, and was lucky to get out of it. I didn’t have to be alone, and neither do you. It will be difficult, but talk to someone. Your parents, your spouse, a good and trusted friend, your doctor, your religious teacher. Or call a support line, like Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868).

There are people that care. You are loved.

As for the bullies, they can all burn in the lowest bowels of hell.

Winter Holidays and Festivals

Todd Fischer, Dec. 24th, 2007

I have always been fascinated by winter holidays and festivals, so this year I started compiling a list. So far I have only trawled through Wikipedia, but by next winter I will have gone through some of my books (like 'The Dictionary of Festivals') and have a more comprehensive list, with more details regarding each event.


Navratri: Nine-day celebration worshipping female divinity, in October or November. Culminates in Dussehra. Hindu.

Diwali: Known as the Festival of Lights, this Hindu holiday celebrates the victory of good over evil. The five-day festival is marked by ceremonies, fireworks and sweets. Women dress up and decorate their hands with henna tattoos for the melas, or fairs. Many different myths are associated with Diwali, one of which celebrates the return of Lord Rama after a 14-year exile and his defeat of the demon Ravana. In the Gregorian calendar, it falls generally in the months of October or November.

Bhaubeej: Hindu, second day after Diwali.


Advent: four weeks prior to Christmas - preparing for the birth of Christ. Christian.

Samhain: November 1 - first day of winter in the Celtic calendar (and Celtic New Year's Day)

Samhain: November 1 - first day of winter in the Celtic calendar (and Celtic New Year's Day). Pagan and neopagan.

Thanksgiving - (fourth Thursday in November in United States) — Holiday generally observed as an expression of gratitude, traditionally to God, for the autumn harvest. It is traditionally celebrated with a meal shared among friends and family in which turkey is eaten. It is celebrated by many as a secular holiday, and in the USA marks the beginning of the "holiday season".

Black Friday - (Day after Thanksgiving in United States) — Day after Thanksgiving. It is generally viewed as the first day of the Christmas shopping season. Stores generally give sales and discounts to attract customers.


Eid ul-Adha: Starting on the 10th of Dhul Hijja, a four day holiday commemorating the Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.
NOTE: The Islamic calendar is based on the moon and this festival moves with respect to the solar year. It is, however, falling in the winter in the first decade of the present [21st] Century of the common era.

Winterval: Secular name for winter festivities coined by Birmingham City Council to encompass all holidays being recognized from October to January

Saint Nicholas Day (05 December in the Netherlands, 06 December in Belgium).

Saint Nicholas' Day: December 6. Christian.

Bodhi Day: December 8 - Day of Enlightenment, celebrating the day that the historical Buddha (Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Guatama) experienced enlightenment (also known as Bodhi). Buddhist.

Rohatsu: Zen Buddhist obervance of Bodhi Day

Hanukkah - (26 Kislev - 2/3 Tevet - almost always in December) — Jewish holiday celebrating the defeat of Seleucid forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practising Judaism, and also celebrating the miracle of the Menorah lights burning for eight days with only enough (olive) oil for one day.

Chrismukkah: Slang term for the amalgam of Christmas and Hanukkah celebrated by religiously mixed families and couples. Secular.

Chrismahanukwanzakah: the modern-day merging of the holidays of Christianity's Christmas, Judaism's Hanukkah, and the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa.

Kwanamus: Fictional blend of Christmas, Ḥannukah and Kwanzaa. Fictional.

Zamenhof Day: (December 15) - Birthday of Ludwig Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto; holiday reunion for Esperantists

Saturnalia: the Roman winter soltice festival. Dec 17 – 23.

Winter Solstice, Yule - (Winter solstice, around 21-22 December in the northern hemisphere and 21-22 June in the southern hemisphere) — The celebrations on the winter solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year, are traditionally marked with anything that symbolizes or encourages life. Decorations of evergreens, bright objects and lights; singing songs, giving gifts, feasting and romantic events are often included. For Neopagans this is the celebration of the death and rebirth of the sun and is one of the eight sabbats on the wheel of the year.

Yule: the Germanic winter solstice festival

Yule: (Winter Solstice) - Germanic Pagan festival of the rebirth of the Sun. Pagan and neopagan.

Winter Solstice: December 21~December 22 – midwinter. Celtic.

Winter Solstice: (December 21) - New Age festival. Pagan and neopagan.

Yalda: The turning point, Winter Solstice (December 21). End of the longest night of the year (Darkness), and beginning of growing of the days (Lights). A celebration of Good over Evil. Iranian/Persian.

Global Orgasm Day. Dec 22. Dec. 22 is globally recognized as Orgasm Day! Express yourself in any way you see fit! Grab a boy, girl, or grab both! But make sure you grab something then take yourself up, up, and away! YAY! Oh, and one more thing, You're welcome! http://www.globalorgasm.org/

Karachun - the ancient Slavs polytheistic winter solstice festival.

Dong zhi: Winter solstice Chinese, on or around Dec 22.

Modranect: or Mothers' Night, the Saxon winter solstice festival.

Festivus (23 December). Fictional.

HumanLight: (December 23) - Humanist holiday originated by the New Jersey Humanist Network. Secular.

Christmas Eve - (24 December) — Day before Christmas. Observances usually include big feasts at night to celebrate the day to come. It is the supposed night that Santa Claus delivers presents to all the good children of the world.

Christmas Day - (25 December) — Christian holiday commemorating the traditional birth-date of Jesus. Observances include gift-giving, the decoration of trees and houses, and Santa Claus folktales.

Festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun: late Roman Empire - December 25. Roman.
Festival of the Bells: Midwinter celebration in Fraggle Rock, also mentioned in A Muppet Family Christmas.

Wintersday: The annual winter holiday in the MMORPG Guild Wars. This holiday is based on Christmas and Yule and one can get neat hats.

12 Days of Christmas: December 25 through January 6. Christian.

Signature of the Constitution of the Republic of China (Taiwan) : December 25 - a secular national holiday, which due to its date is celebrated in some respects like Christmas

Yuletide: (December 25) - Classic and modern, respectively, terms for the social and federal December 25th holiday. Secular.

Decemberween: (from the Homestar Runner flash cartoon). The characters also celebrate an annual holiday called "Decemberween", a parody of Christmas that features gift-giving, carol-singing, and decorated trees. The fact that it takes place on December 25, the same day as Christmas, has been presented as just a coincidence, stating that Decemberween traditionally takes place "55 days after Halloween".

Saint Stephen's Day: December 26. Christian.

Kwanzaa (USA) - (26 December - 1 January) — A modern American invention held from December 26 to January 1 honoring African-American heritage, primarily in the United States. It was invented in 1966 by black activist and marxist Ron Karenga.

St Stephen's Day or Second Day of Christmas (26 December) — Holiday observed in many European countries.

Boxing Day (26 December or 27 December) — Holiday observed in many Commonwealth countries on the first non-Sunday after Christmas.

Saint John the Evangelist's Day: December 27. Christian.

Holy Innocents' Day: December 28. Christian.

Saint Sylvester's Day: December 31. Christian.

Watch Night: December 31. Christian.

New Year's Eve - (31 December) — Night before New Year's Day. Usually observed with celebrations and festivities in anticipation of the new year.

Hogmanay: (Night of December 31 - Before dawn of January 1) - Scottish New Years Eve Celebration

Hogswatchnight: December 32 - New Year's Eve/Christmas in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels (plays on Hogmanay, Watch Night, and "hogwash")


New Year's Day - (1 January) — Holiday observing the first day of the year in the Gregorian calendar.

Feast of the Circumcision: January 1. Christian.

Feast of Fools: January 1. Christian.

Twelfth Night: Epiphany Eve January 5. Christian.

Epiphany - January 6: the arrival of the Three Magi.. Christian.

Eastern Orthodox Christmas according to the Julian Calendar: January 7. Christian.

Sadeh: A mid-winter feast to honor fire and to "defeat the forces of darkness, frost and cold". Iranian/Persian. 50 days before March 21 (nowrouz).

Winter-een-mas (The season lasts all of January, however the actual holiday itself is 25 January - 31 January). Fictional. from Ctrl+Alt+Del

Burns Night: (January 25) - Birthday of Robert Burns. Secular.

Tu Bishvat: New Year of the Trees occurring on the 15th of Shevat, January or February. Jewish.

Chinese New Year (late January - early February) - considered the end of winter in the traditional Chinese calendar


Quebec City Winter Carnival: (February) - Annual celebration of winter. Secular.

Imbolc: February 1 - first day of spring in the Celtic calendar

Imbolc : (February 1 or 2) - festival of candles. Pagan and neopagan.

Candlemas: February 2. Christian.

Groundhog Day: (February 2). Secular.

Hedgehog Day: February 2 - supposed archaic European version of Groundhog Day, dating back to Roman times. Fictional.

St. Valentine's Day: February 14. Christian and secular.

Purim: Occurring on 14th or 15th day of Adar, late February to March, commemorating the miraculous deliverance and victory of the Jews of the Persian Empire in the events recorded in the Book of Esther. Jewish.

Lupercalia, the Roman end-of-winter festival - February 15

Fur Rondy: (Late February and early March]) - Winter celebration in Anchorage, Alaska. Secular.


Chahar Shanbeh Suri: Festival of Fire, Last Wednesday of the Iranian Calendar year. It marks the importance of the light over the darkness, and arrival of spring and revival of nature. March 20 or 21st. Iranian/Persian.


Matariki: (Māori New Year, usually early June) - Rising of the Pleiades star cluster before dawn.



Todd Over Thinks at the Movies

Todd Fischer, Oct. 16th, 2007

1. Why do the Infected not attack each other? If the simple answer is they can sense those who are Infected, then why would the father have killed the mother? She was Infected, even if not outwardly affected by the Rage Virus. This would seem to indicate that there is NO reason why the Infected would not attack each other, and that the only reason they don’t is because then we wouldn’t have much of a movie. All those packs of Infected would have torn themselves to bits.

2. I don’t care if you are a kid who misses his mom, sneaking out of a safe zone to get her picture from your house is idiotic and suicidal. Would anybody really be that dumb?

3. They make a point of telling us the father has an access card that lets him in anywhere in the building, which never really comes into play. I guess he used it to get in to see his wife, so maybe this shouldn’t even qualify as a point against the film. Oh wait, except his wife wasn’t even under surveillance, let alone under guard. And really, would a custodial pass card let you into a high security medical lab?

4. The helicopter pilot would not take the kids when his buddy is alive, but for some reason will once he’s dead.

5. Speaking of the helicopter pilot, it’s a good thing he seems to be able to do whatever the hell he wants, without having to let anyone know where he’s going.

6. It’s also a good thing for the helicopter pilot that there’s no military blockade of England, so he can just merrily fly to the mainland. One would think there would be an international naval blockade and that there would be no way a plane or helicopter could leave England without being challenged. Besides, isn’t that also assuming the Infected can’t swim?

7. “I know I have the rifle with a night sight scope, and we’re walking through a pitch black Underground, but why don’t you kids walk in front of me since you can’t see, where you will also be between me and anything I may have to shoot?”

8. That was the un-safest safe-zone I’ve ever seen. No guards and a single chain on the door that snapped at the first sign of pressure.

9. Did everyone forget that the virus is contained in all bodily fluids, including blood? Blood gets spattered all over people in this movie and no one is worried about infection. In fact, this is so prevalent it’s worth a few points:

10. No Infection?: The brother hugs his sister covered in gore with no one showing the slightest concern.

11. No Infection?: What’s more, the kid doesn’t bother to clean the blood off for the rest of the movie.

12. No Infection?: When the medical officer shoots the Infected guard and splatters his blood all over the door to the kids’ room she shows no concern in touching it when opening the door.

13. People are assuming that once an Infected dies, the virus dies with them. Who says? The virus could lie dormant in their bodily remains. The sister very easily could have become infected taking the keys from the decaying pizza delivery boy.

14. If you are going to commandeer a pizza delivery moped, wouldn’t you take the six-month old pizzas off of it before riding off? Yuck.

15. When the American soldier helps the kids escape by pushing their car until it starts, he is fried by other American troops with a flamethrower. Troops who do not seem to care that a car with other possibly infected people is zooming off down the street.

16. Would they really start importing displaced citizens while there are still bodies being burned in the streets?

17. There are only 15000 people in the safe zone, not including American soldiers. Once the outbreak occurs most of them are firebombed. That means, at most, a few hundred Infected remain. I dunno, that’s just not as scary to me as a whole island full of them (like in the first one).

18. Less Infected means less threat, and since they didn’t use wild animals (see next point) they had to make the military the enemy. I wasn’t watching this movie to see the protagonists dodge bullets. I was watching this movie to see them try to evade zombies Infected.

19. Packs of rats and wild dogs are mentioned, but we don’t see a single one. Where was the giant roving pack of slavering canines, half-starved and looking for fresh meat? Where were the hordes of rats in the Underground?

20. Where were the insects? You would think, with that many decomposing bodies, that the streets would be filled with flies and other bugs.

21. The father must have had a homing chip implanted in his kids, because somehow me manages to track them all over London after he becomes Infected.

22. It takes the military, what, at least an hour to catch up with two kids riding a moped.

23. This isn’t supposed to be a zombie movie, and yet a lot of the Infected seem to like to bite. If someone is overcome with rage I think the instinct would be to hit, not bite. The only reason they are biting so much is for plot convenience (so the virus can spread).

24. Again, not a zombie movie, but we have some very zombiesque shots following the scene in which the helicopter pilot manages to chop up a bunch of Infected with his helicopter blades (pretty good flying; I think most people trying a stunt like that would have clipped a blade and flipped their bird). I would have had no problem with the squirming dismembered bodies and folks walking around missing major portions of their bodies if this was a zombie movie. But the writer/director has always maintained that these are not zombies. I guess they were just so angry at being chopped to bits by a helicopter that they didn’t feel like dying right away.

25. The virus turns people too quickly. In the first movie after an Infected attack there was a period of paranoia and fear as everyone had to see if their comrades had been scratched, bitten or splattered with Infected bodily fluid. Here, the virus turns people immediately (such as the teenage girl in the opening scene).

26. Would sitting in a car really protect you from that much poison gas?

27. The editing. I found it often jarring, making it hard to follow the action.

28. We knew how the movie was going to end.

Now, all that said, there were some good parts to the movie. The score was great. The father made a great zombie Infected. There are a few neat high tension scenes (though you’re still inwardly cursing the characters for fools during them). Just not enough to really make this a movie necessarily worth watching more than once.
Originally written for a medieval journal, 2002.

Tafl is the catch name for a group of games popular in northern Europe up to a few hundred years ago. Variants have been found in Finland, Scotland, Ireland, England, Scandinavia and many other countries. Anywhere that had contact with the Vikings had contact with tafl.


The oldest record of a tafl-like game is from 250 BCE, when the Germanic tribes first entered recorded history. The oldest board found to date was in Denmark. The board was dated to 400 CE.

Tafl was written about in folk tales, poems and epics throughout northern Europe. It appears in an English manuscript dated somewhere during 925-940 CE, and in a Swedish botanist’s journal in 1732. (It is from this journal that we get most of our modern information on how to play from.) Gweyddbwyll (a Welsh variant) is included in the Arthurian legends, where Owain (a Welsh hero) bests King Arthur.

Being a good tafl player was so important that when the Norseman Earl Rognvalder Kail bragged about his skills, he topped his list with his strength at tafl.

The Rules

The most prevalent version of tafl, the one you are most likely to encounter today, is the Finnish version, called Tablut. Tablut was played on a 9 x 9 checkered board. One side, the defenders, consisted of 9 men, one of whom was the king. They were usually white, and were placed in the center of the board. The king was placed in the center of the board, on a square called either the King’s Square, the Throne, or konakis. The attackers numbered sixteen, were most often red, brown or black, and set up on the edges of the board. The white side represented Swedes, and the black Moscovites (Russians). In other versions the King is called Hnefi (‘King’) or Cyningstan (Old English for ‘King-Stone’), and the pieces were called Hunns (‘knobs’), Taeflor (‘table-men’) or taefelstanas (Old English for ‘table-men’).
Pieces moved like a rook in chess, which is any number of spaces orthogonally (up or down, left or right, not diagonally).

In most variants any piece could move through the Throne, but only the King could land on it.

Pieces were captured by having an opponent close in on two sides, either top and bottom, or left and right. If a piece moves intentionally between two enemy pieces of its own volition it is not captured. Multiple captures were possible.

The King is captured by being blocked on all four sides. If the King is sitting beside the Throne, and is blocked by white on the other three sides, he is captured. Also, if any defenders are sitting beside the King, and they and the King are blocked in so none of them can move, the King is captured. (In some modern versions, the King is captured like any other piece.) The King is allowed to take part in captures for his side.

As should be obvious by now, the attacker’s goal is to capture the King. The King’s goal is to escape. There are at least two different ways to play this:

1) Get the King to an edge. In this version, the King wins if he reaches an outside edge of the board. If he makes a move that opens up a clear path to an edge for the King, he announces “Raichi”. If this path is opened by white’s move, he does not have to announce this, and can take opportunity of the opening on his next move to win the game. If he has two clear paths to an edge, he announces “Tuichi”. Two paths cannot be blocked during one move, so it is an automatic win.
2) Get the King to a corner. Some tafl boards have been found with ornate corners, leading scholars to believe that in some versions the King had to get to a corner to win. In this case, one of two rules had to added, to keep white from simply blocking the corners and forcing a stalemate.
2a) The corners count as Thrones, which means only the King can land in them. This doesn’t stop white from simply sitting beside them, effectively blocking access for the King, so most modern tafl boards use the next rule.
2b) The corners, and the center Throne, count as hostile spaces. Anyone sitting next to one is at threat of capture. Once the King leaves the Throne, he cannot land on it again.

Other Possible Variations

There is a lot of conjecture about what ancient games were really tafl games. Evidence is being pieced together from fragments of poems, journal entries and other such sources, and are usually incomplete or evasive in meaning. The one constant seems to be that the boards always had an odd number of checks, and that the defenders had half the number of men as the attackers, plus the King. Also, the attackers generally go first.

1) Fitchneal (Irish), played on a 7 x 7 board. Some game historians actually think this was based on an older Roman game, and was not related to Tafl at all.

2) Tawlbrydd / Tawlbrydd / Tawl-Bwrdd (Welsh), played on an 11 x 11 or 13 x 13 board. Tawl-Bwrdd is usually translated as ‘Throw Board’, and dates back to 914-943 CE. It was played on an 11 x 11 board, with the King and twelve defenders against twenty-four attackers. The way in which this game’s name has been translated, leads some to believe that dice were used in play. Some say that an even roll meant you missed your turn. Others believe that the roll told you how far you could move a piece that turn. This is disputed, as the randomness involves cuts down on a game of skill and tactics.

3) Hnefatafl (Saxon), translates as ‘King’s Table.’ At least one example exists of hnefatafl being played on an 18 x 18 board. Therefore, it is surmised that the pieces were actually placed on the corners of the checks, instead of in the checks, turning the board into a 17 x 17 board. (Many eastern games, such as Go, were played like this.) Hnefatafl on a 19 x 19 board greatly resembles Alea Evangeli.

4) Alea Evangeli (Anglo-Saxon), played on a 19 x 19 board. In this version the defender moved first and the four defenders right around the King are the King’s Guards, and cannot be captured. The other defenders are called Huns.

5) Some games were played on a 7 x 7 board where pieces could only move one space at a time, such as Scotland’s Ard-Ri (‘High King’). Escape was to the corners.


Sire Bohémond de Niée, Hnefatafl: The Viking Game.

Lord Brustende Bearsul (Patrick J. Smith), “Period Pastimes,” The Compleat Anachronist #71: Ways to While Away a Siege, 1994. 34-35, 46.

Gerhand Kendal of Westmoreland, “Alquerque and Tafl Games,” The Compleat Anachronist #4: Indoor Games, Jan 1983, 27-31.

Helmfrid, Sten, Hnefatafl: The Strategic Board Game of the Vikings, version 2, 2000.

Knutson, Charles, “The Games of the Vikings,” Renaissance Magazine #22, 2001. 22-23.

Salaamallah the Corpulant (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games. Third Edition. Willimantic, CT, 1995. 72-75.
Originally written for a medieval journal, Dec 2002.

The weekend before Christmas, Thorfinna and I opened our doors to celebrate Yule and the Winter Solstice, which fell on the Saturday night. As part of the festivities I decided to try my hand at five period Christmas dishes. As I don’t have any period cookbooks of my own as yet, I got all these recipes from the inter-net, so cannot vouch for their accuracy. Most are modern renditions of period recipes, substituting modern ingredients for those hard (or impossible) to come by.

I have a bit of a reputation as being a bad cook (just ask my brothers) so this experiment was quite a departure for me. (I marked this very solemn occasion by wearing chef’s whites and a Santa hat, and calling myself Iron Chef Christmas while I cooked.)

Pie in a Pipkin

This 16th century Italian stew is basically a meat pie without the crust and was extremely easy to make. Due to its lengthy cooking time I prepared it first, and made the other dishes while it simmered.

3 lbs stewing beef
2 medium onions chopped
cooking oil
½ cup raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon mace
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ water
1 tablespoon vinegar

As neither Thorfinna nor I like cloves, and find that they overpower any food they’re in, I cut them from my ingredient list.

Brown the meet in a skillet, then pour the meat and the juices into a pot. On the skillet, sauté the onions until clear, then put them into the pot as well. Add the raisins, water and the spices and simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours stirring occasionally. I cooked it for the full two hours. You are supposed to add the vinegar and salt when the meat is almost done, but I accidentally added them at the same time as the spices, raisins and water. Fortunately this did not seem to affect the flavour.

This dish was enjoyed by all and had a nice tart flavour. It was beautifully aromatic.


Drepe is an almond milk chicken dish from 14th century England. It was originally made from three whole game hens but I used cut chicken breasts. In the early afternoon, before beginning to cook, I prepared the almond milk as it is supposed to sit for an hour before use. I used the directions in my source recipe, which gave me just under two cups of milk. When it came time to make the Drepe I discovered that it needed 4 cups of milk so had to quickly whip off two more cups. Again, I was afraid this variance would ruin the flavour, but it did not. It did create a mess of my kitchen as the bottom of the blender came half-off, spraying almond milk everywhere.

Almond Milk Ingredients (for 4 cups)
1 cup almonds (I used shaved, though you can start with whole)
1/2 cup water (for grinding)
2 cups water, broth, wine or combination (I used 1 cup water, 1 cup chicken broth)
4 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

If you are using raw almonds you need to boil the almonds in water for three minutes. Drain, rinse and cool. Then squeeze off the skins. By using pre-cleaned and cut almonds I got to skip this step.

Grind the almonds in water in a food processor. In a saucepan over low heat dissolve sugar and salt in the water/broth/wine. In a bowl combine the ground almonds and the sugar water and whisk until smooth. Cover and let stand for an hour. Stir before using.

Drepe Ingredients
3 lbs chicken (I cut eight breasts in half)
4 cups water
4 cups almond milk
2 medium onions chopped
1 teaspoon hot mustard powder
butter for sautéing

I couldn’t find hot mustard powder, so used regular mustard powder. Make sure you use butter and not margarine for the sautéing. You could really taste the butter in the flavour and margarine would have ruined this.

In your skillet brown the chicken in butter, then put chicken into a pot with water and boil for twenty minutes. Drain water.

While the chicken is boiling, sauté onions in skillet with butter until transparent. Combine onions with drained chicken and add almond milk, salt and mustard powder. Boil, then simmer for ten minutes stirring frequently. The recipe said to remove the chicken from the sauce, and combine them again only upon serving. I served right from the stove so did not do this.

This was my favourite of the night, and a lot of other people agreed with me. The chicken was tender and was saturated with the almond milk. This was very easy to make and would be a good recipe for a feast as the ingredients were not that expensive.

Cherry Syrosye

This is a 14th century French dessert, which my source attributed to the Goodman of Paris.

2 lbs cherries (fresh of frozen)
1 ½ cups red wine
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup breadcrumbs
edible flowers or whole cloves
1/3 cup coarse white sugar
pinch of salt

Edible flowers can be found in certain health food stores, though I did not go to the effort of tracking any down as they are a decoration and not really part of the ingredients at all. (I didn’t use those evil cloves either.)

Wash and pit cherries, then puree with ½ cup wine and the sugar. Melt butter in a saucepan and add cherry mixture, breadcrumbs, remaining wine and sugar and pinch of salt. Stir and simmer until thickened. Pour into a bowl, cover and cool. Before serving decorate with flowers or cloves.

Cherries, fresh or frozen, weren’t in the budget so I used cherry pie filling and did not add any sugar. I don’t know if this attributed to this dish’s lack of popularity or not. The pie filling was thick and my blender had a hard time mixing it. I had to continually stop it, stick in a wooden spoon and loosen things up. The fruit mixture heated up quickly on my stove and burned a bit on the bottom.

When served only four people were brave enough to try it. Thorfinna and I did not like it, while Berend and Mahault thought it was all right and would perhaps make a good side dish for a pork entrée.

Sop D’Orre
My source did not give a place or time period for this dessert, though from its name I’m guessing France.

½ cup ground almonds (I used sliced)
1 cup white wine
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon honey
½ tablespoon salt
4 slices bread
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon mace

Again, I did not use the cloves.

Combine ginger, cinnamon, sugar and mace and set aside. Boil the almonds in wine for seven minutes, then add saffron, honey and salt. Simmer for another two minutes, then keep warm until use.

While the wine is boiling, cut bread into fingers and butter on both sides. Cook the bread in the oven until its toasty, then place on serving tray. (The level of toastiness is left up to you.) Sprinkle spice mixture on the bread, then drench with the wine mixture.

A very easy recipe that was met with a lot of compliments. (Although they were hard to understand, what with all the full mouths). This dish should be eaten while it’s still hot, and before the wine completely soaks into the bread. Though I did end up eating one piece after it had been sitting for a while and it was not as soggy as I was expecting.

Wassail Brew
I got this recipe out of a book on the winter solstice. Though wassailing was indeed a Saxon (and later English) tradition, I don’t know exactly how traditional this recipe is.

6 bottles beer
½ cup sugar
¼ mixed spice or allspice
3 small sweet apples, cut
1 ¼ cup pineapple juice
1 ¼ cup orange juice
2 lemons
8 cinnamon sticks

Next time I make this I may not use the allspice to avoid the cloves in it. I would instead make my own mixed spice from ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace. For the beer I used the Ealdormerean favourite—Waterloo Dark.

In a pot heat the beer until warm, then add sugar, spice, apples, juice and cinnamon sticks. Squeeze the juice from the two lemons into the pot. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the cream (I wimped out and used a spray can of whipped cream) and serve.

After brewing, we all filled our cups and went out into the back yard. I poured one cup at the base of our old maple tree and we all cried, “Wassail!” (Traditionally you would wassail fruit bearing trees, but we work with what we have.) I’m not much of a beer drinker, but as I threw back my cup I found that I actually enjoyed this quite a bit. However, myself and at least one other person found that some of the spices did not dissolve and we got a shot of straight spice down the throat. This necessitated the drinking of much water. You may want to strain it before drinking. This drink was well received and was nice and warm while we stood out in the cold night.


Period cooking does not have to be difficult. I mean, my gods, I did it and it came out edible. (Well, except for the Syrosye.) I do believe at Pennsic I’ll be picking up some spices and a couple of cookbooks. Stomachs of Ealdormere beware, there’s a Scot loose in the kitchen.


How to Cook Medieval Christmas Feasts http://www.godecookery.com/how2cook/howto06.htm

Recipe Source http://www.recipesource.com/misc/medieval/

Shire of Vanished Woods’ Medieval Desserts http://hometown.aol.com/vanishwood/guild/desert.htm

The Winter Solstice, John Matthews. Godsfield Press: Wheaton, IL, 1998.

Further Reading

A Book of Gode Cookery http://www.godecookery.com/godeboke/godeboke.htm

Medieval Feasts: Frumenty http://www.bitwise.net/%7Eken%2Dbill/medrcp09.htm
Originally written for a medieval journal, Nov 2002.

Those that know me know that I have a bit of an obsession with bathrooms. Not through choice but through necessity have I visited a great many and spent hours and hours of my life sitting upon porcelain thrones. In fact, the van der Eychs have a WC plaque on the bathroom in their keep, which they say stands for “Welcome Colyne.” So it was only natural for me to think one day, “With this stomach disorder of mine, what would life have been like for me back in period? Where would I have gone potty?”

The answer depends on exactly what period we’re looking at. Roman garrisons had communal bathrooms that were basically trenches you would stand at next to your buddies (not unlike some American sports arenas today). Likewise in the more ‘civilized’ Roman world, people were more communal when it came to voiding. Bathrooms were unisex and toilets were long stone benches with strategically placed holes. When you were done you would clean yourself with a sponge on a stick, and then wash your hands in a bucket of water. All the waste produced would then flow through the sewer to the river.

I’m not sure what the Norse did their business in, but to clean afterwards they used moss or bits of clothing (hopefully not clothing they were still wearing).

In later period once castles were in vogue we saw the advent of the garderobe. Garderobe were basically semi-private ‘poop-chutes’ that stuck out over the castle walls. Picture a stone port-a-potty suspended over the top of a castle wall with a hole in the floor. Waste would plummet to the ground and some poor souls would periodically have to move it around to try to combat the stink. Often strange holes or chutes can be seen on the external walls of castles and these are, as you might have guessed, often garderobe vents. Waste sent hurtling outside of castle walls would often find its way into moats, which would be a deterrent to invaders all on its own. According to one source, farmers would sometimes collect the waste to spread on their fields.

Servants would clean the garderobes with buckets of water and cloths. As for the garderobe patrons, there was no such thing as toilet paper. Straw or hay bundles called “torche-culs” would have to suffice. Unless they wanted to use the “gomphus”—a curved stick.

In monasteries they were more Roman in their attitudes and would sit back to back on benches that dropped waste in water tunnels connected to some sort of sewer. The monks had to have strong bladders though, as they were only allowed to ‘go’ at certain times of the day.

The well-to-do had water closets in their manors. These were small rooms where one could do their business, but which did not have any type of sanitation system. It was up to the closet-keeper to keep the water closet clean. To cut down on smells they would place green sheets over the seats. (Why green? You got me.)

As for the commoner, the peasants, the serf? Nothing beats sand. Or dirt. Good old dirt. If they were at home they had a chamber pot whose contents would be tossed out a window after a suitable warning had been called. In France it was “gardez l'eau” (which gave birth to our term ‘loo’).

By the late 1400s traveling cesspool cleaners began to appear, called night men. How much could a night man expect to make for his toil? A bill from 1494 shows that two shillings a ton were paid to have a six-ton cesspool emptied! In Scotland enterprising sanitation engineers would wander the streets with a bucket calling “Wha wants me for a bawbee?” As a customer squatted over the bucket the bucket owner would cover them with a giant cloak to grant them a modicum of privacy.

Hhhmm. Now I’m considering taking a bucket and a cloak to Pennsic next year. Forget the lineups at the port-a-castles, I gotta nice bucket here.

Then again, maybe not.


About.com: The Jorvik Viking Centre, http://britishhistory.about.com/blJorvik.htm

The Castle Page of James M. Deem, http://www.jamesmdeem.com/castlepage.htm

RomanceEverAfter: Medieval Health and Sanitation, http://www.romanceeverafter.com/no_such_thing_as_toilet_paper.htm

Toilets, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempires/roman/toilets.html

Toilets, http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/easton.suffolk/castles/toilets/

Toilets through the Ages,
Originally written for a medieval journal, circa 2003

1000 C. E. A type of thin playing card, much like dominoes, appear in China. Suits are variations of coins.

1200 C. E. Playing cards now established in the Middle West. The Islamic suits were Coins, Swords, Cups and Polosticks. There were also three court cards, called the Commander, Lt. Commander and Second Lt.

1350 C. E. Islamic cards introduced to southern Europe. The suit of Polosticks was changed to Scepters, Batons or Cudgels, and Europeans experimented with the court cards, sometimes having as many as six (King, Queen, Knight, Lady, Valet and Maid). Germans changed the suits to Leaves, Hearts, Acorns and Hawk Bells; they also disposed of the Queen card.

1420 C. E. The Italian game Tarocco appears, using four court cards (King, Queen, Knight and Valet) and introducing a wild card (the Fool). The deck expanded from 52 to 97 cards, and the name changed to Tarot. (It was not until the 1780s that these playing cards began being used for divination.)

1470 C. E. The French create our current suits of Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds (though the French called them Hearts, Spearheads, Trefoils and Squares). These cards were originally handmade and hand painted, and were owned by the wealthy only. Soon, woodblocks were used to mass-produce them on cardboard.


The United States Playing Card Company : http://www.usplayingcard.com/Tradition/CardHistory.html

Is Tablero Period, and Should we Care

Originally written for a medieval journal, 2002.

One of the first games I learned about when joining the SCA* was Tablero de Jesus. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Peers here in Ealdormere (and seemingly everywhere) are enamoured of this drinking game. When I originally asked about its origins I was told that the game was likely invented by someone in the SCA. However, upon doing a bit of reading (in the few sources I could find) I came across claims that it was a 15th Century Spanish gambling game.

Recently a discussion on the Games Guild of Ealdormere e-list has re-sparked my interest in tracking down the origins of this game, so I began my research a new.

While most sources claim that the gambling game was invented in Spain in the 15th Century, there are some in An Tir who claim that it was a good gentle from that kingdom that added the drinking component. There, they call the drinking version Tablero de Gucci (Lilith Runesdattir). Other sources say that the Scots added the drinking component, and called the game Toblero (The Game Cabinet).

For documentation all we have is second hand information. According to a post to hist-games, made by Justin de Coeur, Tablero was likely introduced to the SCA by a fellow named Gerhard Kendal. He there quotes photocopies given him by Amanda Kendal of Westmoreland (Gerhard’s wife) that were written by I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, Ph.D., Queenswood Professor of Medieval Studies at Brunswick University. De Coeur says the photocopies gave the following history of Tablero:
1. That the game is known to have been played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404
and that boards have been found in a few Spanish abbeys, as well as Tuscany, Provence and the Low Countries.
2. That the Abbot of Cleaves in England, in 1449 refers in his journal to "the Jesus boarde".
3. That the Bishop of Limoges defended the game in 1446.
4. That the game was banned by Pope Sylvester V in 1458.
5. That Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro says in his memoirs that he introduced the game to the papal court in 1456.
6. That the board being sold by Erzbergen-St.Susse is based on one found at the Abbey of Saint-Michel-des-Fosses in Provence.
This board is highly decorated, with a floral motif covering most of the squares and featuring various religious symbols on some
of them. No one seems to know if these symbols influeneced play or were merely decoration, but in the footnotes there is a
reference to a British professor Bryce Ryefield as having given an opinion on one of the odder symbols on the board.

However, according to other sources, and my own research, all these arguments are flawed. We will look at each in turn.

First, that the game was played by Cistercian monks at the Abbey of Los Santos de Campo in Granada by 1404. I cannot find any record of such an abbey. Senhora Ester Mendes says, in her post to hist-games, that no abbey existed at that time by that name. This doesn’t seem unremarkable, since during 1404 Granada was under Muslim rule!
Likewise, I can’t find record of any city named Cleaves in England, supposed home of the Abbot of Cleaves, who wrote of the game in his journal. Mendes claims that the only Cleaves she could unearth was a town in Germany.

As for the Bishop of Limoges, well. There was indeed a Bishop of Limoges in 1446, but I cannot find any mention of him tied in with Tablero (other than on pages quoting the same source material). It may have been helpful if the Bishop’s name had been supplied.

And what of Pope Sylvester V, who supposedly banned the game in 1458? Such a person did not exist. The New Advent Online Catholic Dictionary has no listing for a Sylvester V (though there were Sylvesters I through III). Callistus III was Pope in 1458.

Neither does there exist any record of Cardinal Martino d'Allesandro or Professor Bryce Ryefield. Even the author of the game’s history itself, Dr. I.Y. Erzbergen-St.Susse, seems to be a fabrication. I can find no record of her/him, nor of a Brunswick University. Everyone and everything quoted to support the existence of Tablero does not seem to exist itself.

It would seem that Gerhard Kendal’s source material is flawed. In an email copied to hist-games and dated July 25, 2001, Gerhard claims he learned the game from Duchess Merowyn de Lyoness of the West Kingdom (Teceangel). Pouring over the Order of Precedence for the West Kingdom I did not find a Merowyn de Lyoness, though I did find a listing for Merewyn de Lyonesse.

It is possible that this is the same person, and Gerhard Kendal simply misspelled her name (and gave her the wrong title; this good gentle is credited as a Viscountess, not a Duchess). I have personally emailed Gerhard Kendal to ask him about Tablero, and in response he sent me the exact same email posted to hist-games. (He also said he’d send me a photocopy of his board and documentation but has so far not done so.) I have thus far been unable to track down an email for Viscountess Merewyn de Lyonesse.

In looking at further posts on hist-games, I found one by Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland, who claims that her brother, Andre Lessard (Derek Stevens), invented the drinking aspect of Tablero, after learning the game in 1976 from Maelgwyn and Merewyn de Lyonesse. I emailed Melissa to see if she had any more information on the subject but have not heard back from her.

So, what is the verdict?

Without being able to consult primary documentation first hand, and having its supposed points of support repudiated, we must work under the assumption that Tablero is a modern invention.

Does this mean that we should stop playing and teaching it? I don’t think so. Though the SCA is at its heart a recreation group, it is often billed as ‘the Middle Ages the way they should have been.’ We’ve taken the idea of the Middle Ages and made our own sub-culture. So if a game is developed within our culture, should we not play it? It is something unique to us, and part of who we are. As long as we don’t teach it as a true period game, but rather as an SCA game, I see nothing wrong with letting it prosper (not that anyone could stop it if they wanted to). I would rather see someone playing an SCA game than not playing a game at all.

*Society for Creative Anachronism (a medieval recreation group)


Baron Steffano, Cardinal da Gucci and al Khabeelah McGurn of Ravensfuri, Baron Steffano’s Guide to Tablero de Gucci, Fourth edition : http://www.aracnet.com/~avalon/cosmic/steffano.html

Dagonell the Juggler, Tablero de Jesus. : http://www-cs.canisius.edu/~salley/Articles/tablero.html

The Game Cabinet, Tablero. : http://www.gamecabinet.com/rules/Tablero.html

Gerhard Kendal of Westmoreland, “El Tablero de Jesus”, The Compleat Anachronist #4: Indoor Games, or How to While Away a Seige, January 1983. 41-42.

--. post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001. : http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2001/000721.html

Justin de Coeur (Mark Waks), post to hist-games, Feb 1 2000. : http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2000/000468.html

Lilith Runesdattir (Jeanne Salt), Tablero, 1998. : http://www.aracnet.com/~avalon/cosmic/tablero.html

Melissa Kendal of Westmoreland (Heather Stecher), post to hist-games, February 3 2001. : http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2001/000625.html

New Advent Online Catholic Dictionary. : http://www.newadvent.org/

The Rolls Ethereal. : http://jducoeur.org/rolls/

Salaamallah the Corpulent (Jeffrey A. DeLuca), Medieval Games, Third Edition, 1995. 135-136.

Senhora Ester Mendes (Kirsti Thomas), post to hist-games (forwarded by Teceangel), Aug 8 2001. : http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2001/000721.html

Thierry Depaulis, posts to hist-games, Jan 29 2000, (http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2000/000458.html) and Feb 2 2000 (http://www.pbm.com/pipermail/hist-games/2000/000469.html).

Zoos with Halos: The Medieval Bestiary

Originally written for a medieval journal, Dec 2002.

What Exactly are Bestiaries?

Quickly explained, a bestiary was a medieval manuscript that acted both as a zoological record of animal life and as a religious text. Bestiary authors would collect tales of animals (some of whom we now know never existed, such as the phoenix) and would compare each animal’s attributes (real or imagined) with those of God, Jesus, the saints and the devil. Bestiaries as we know them began to appear in the 12th century, though they were based on earlier writings, especially the 4th century Greek work by Physiologus.

Why Were they Written?

To the medieval European everything revolved around religion. It was everywhere. It didn’t matter if you were a 10th Century Norse, a 14th Century Englishman or a 17th Century French woman, your life was dictated by religion. Shamans and churches exerted great control over the populace, and for a long time the only texts that were produced were those that had ‘religious merit.’ Remember too that for much of period in Europe only the upper class and the clergy were literate. Most texts produced were produced and transcribed by hordes of ink-stained monks.

The bestiary was a chance for the church to preach through the ‘secular’ written word. (Other popular genres of writing at this time were hagiographies—the lives of the saints—and lapidaries—essentially bestiaries with stones instead of animals.) The church never missed an opportunity to preach (much as nowadays corporations never miss a chance to advertise). As the Aberdeen Bestiary says, they were didactic tools “to improve the minds of ordinary people, in such a way that the soul will at least perceive physically things which it has difficulty grasping mentally: that what they have difficulty comprehending with their ears, they will perceive with their eyes” (Aberdeen MS 24, f25v).

Examples of a Bestiary dear to a Septentrian’s Heart—the Wolf and Bear

Below are two examples of bestiary entries taken from the Aberdeen Bestiary. They are for the wolf (to us the symbol of Ealdormere) and the bear (to us representative of Septentria).

Of the bear. According to the Aberdeen Bestiary (folio 15r and 15v) the bear gives birth to a formless blob of flesh that the mother then licks into shape. The reason the cub was born in such a state was because it was always born prematurely, thirty days after conception. The head of the bear was seen as being weak, its true strength being in its arms and loins (blue yarbles to us Septentrians). They were seen as at least partly intelligent, for they knew how to heal themselves with natural materials (for this same reason North American Natives considered the bear to be wise). When mating they mate more like humans than other quadrupeds, for they embrace each other. Mating generally happens in the winter, as this season arouses them. After which, they will sleep for three months. The enjoy honey and will eagerly attack beehives to get it. If they eat mandrake they will die, but if they then eat ants they will be saved. When attacking a bull they go for the horns and nose, as they know it is the bull’s most sensitive area. (This entry is unusual in that it does not compare the bear to any saintly virtues or sinful vices.)

Of the wolf. The wolf was seen as capricious and greedy, and for this reason whores were called she-wolves as they would strip their lovers of their wealth. The wolf’s strength was thought to be in its chests and paws, and had weak loins. The wolf was a cunning predator that would stay upwind of dogs guarding flocks. If a wolf saw a man it stole his power of speech, but if the man spies the wolf first the wolf looses its fierceness. A patch of hair on a wolf’s tail was thought to be a love charm, and the wolves knew it. If they knew they were going to be captured, they would tear this piece of fur from their body, as this would destroy the charm. The devil was then compared to the wolf as the devil looks on mankind with an evil eye and continues to stalk the sheepfold (the Church) looking for prey. The fact that the wolf’s eyes were luminescent at night meant his eyes were like the Devil’s whose works seem beautiful to blind and foolish men. The bestiary then goes on for about three more pages comparing the wolf to the Devil. (Condensed from the Aberdeen Bestiary, folio 16v, 17r, 17v and 18r)

What Animals were included in the Bestiaries that did not Really Exist?

There were many, but I’ll list a few quickly, along with their dominant characteristics. The Bonnacon was an Asian ox-like animal that expelled burning dung when chased. The satyr, that goat-like, lewd forest dweller is familiar to most of us. One of my favourites is the Yale, a horse-like creature with an elephant’s tail and a boar’s jaw whose long horns could swivel about is head to meet danger from any direction. (The Yale is also a European heraldic animal.)

Are Bestiaries Still Written Today?

Indeed they are. I have seen bestiaries from the colonial period and modern day ones containing creatures of local folklore. The biggest difference to the bestiary is the lack of religious allegories, and its audience. We are a more ‘civilized’, cynical lot. When I crack the cover of A New World Bestiary and read of the chat-huant (a creature that was half cat and half owl) I do not believe that it really existed. In period when they read of Yales they truly believed that somewhere these strange beings really existed. Remember, most Europeans rarely traveled, so they were not very worldy. When those who did travel returned with tales of giraffes (which they called cameleopards) the stories were deemed fantastic but true. (In the case of the giraffe, it was. In the case of the gryphon, it wasn’t.) Today we have people claiming to see sasquatch and aliens and they are generally laughed at.

Sources and Further Reading


The Aberdeen Bestiary Project, http://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/
This is your number one stop on the web for researching or reading bestiaries. It contains a complete, scanned manuscript with typed transcription (in the original Latin) and an English translation. It also has many close-up scans of the individual illuminations.

Bladick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Pres, 1990.

Preminger, Alex, ed. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Enlarged Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

White, T. H., trans. and ed. The Book of Beasts, Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1984.
This is T. H. White’s translation of the same source manuscript as the Aberdeen Bestiary. Unfortunately it does not have reproductions of the original illuminations, but rather has White’s drawings based on those illuminations.

Further Reading
Hamilton, Mary. A New World Bestiary. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985.
A collection of creatures once thought to live in Canada, The US and Mexico during the time of French, English and Spanish exploration.

Hunt, Jonathan. Bestiary: An Illuminated Alphabet of Medieval Beasts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
This book has been making the rounds of the SCA lately. The drawings unfortunately aren’t really illuminated.

Robinson, Alan James and Laurie Block. An Odd Bestiary or, a Compendium of Instructive and Entertaining Descriptions of Animals, Culled from Five Centuries of Travler’s Accounts, Natural Histories, Zoologies, &c. by Authors Famous and Obscure, Arranged as an Abecedary. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
A colonial-age bestiary with excellent illustrations.

The Yale: Heraldic Beast, http://www.kwantlen.bc.ca/~donna/sca/yale/
Lots of info on one of my favourite heraldic beasties.

Sew What: Garb Making for the Non-Sewer

Originally written for a medieval journal, 2003)

At the time I write this I have been a member of the Society for a month less than two years. In all that time I had never made any of my own garb. Luckily I had a lady who was willingly to make some for me, and she has been getting progressively more skilled. Beginning to feel a bit guilty about not helping out in the garb department I finally decided to try and sew something.

Now, I hadn’t really sewn anything since public school, where I made a shark pillow in home-ec. I had tried to sew Thorfinna a favour once, but the result was so hideous that we buried it somewhere and it has not been seen since. So it was with trepidation that I began to plan.

Sine my persona is actually 14th century I decided I should finally get a cotehardie, so with the help of Mahault van der Eych I made a cloth pattern. However, we both came to the realization that this was much too difficult for a beginner project so I will be making it in a few months, and I’ll be doing every step under her guidance. In the meantime I resolved to make some t-tunics and hoods.

So one night I tore myself away from my third draft of the Septentrian history and went down to the sewing room. With Thorfinna’s help and support I then began to sew.

First, I laid down the plaid fabric I wanted to use, and put a tunic on top of it to use as a pattern. I then cut two pieces to be my front and my back. I then laid the arm of the tunic onto the fabric, rolled the fabric over top so I had in effect the front and back of the arm and cut. I repeated this for the other arm.

Then came the tedium. I had to sew the hems of the cuffs for the arms and the bottom of the front and back pieces. When I did the first arm I realized that I had sewn a short side, and not a long side. This was incorrect. The way we had cut the fabric meant that the long side would be the cuff so we unstitched the hem and did it over again. We used a double hem, which meant I folded the fabric over twice. This will make sure we don’t get any ragged looking edges in the future.

We then marked out the neck hole and we did the double hem for that space.

After doing those six hems I cut out trim and sewed it onto the arms, the front and the back, just over the hems. I made sure that they matched up as much as possible so that when the pieces were sewn together the trim would meet.

Taking the front and back I placed them on top of each other backwards, so the trim was on the inside. I then sewed the shoulders together. I then laid the front and back out with the trim on top. The first arm was placed on top, centred on the neck hole, with its trim underneath. The arm was sewn on, and then the same procedure was repeated with the second arm.

The arms were then pulled out flat and the tunic was laid out inside out. Doing this I found that the front was slightly wider than the back so I trimmed it down. I then sewed from the armpits down to the bottom hem, pulling the material tight so that the bottom hems would match up. When this was done I sewed the arms. I started sewing straight out from the cuff until I passed the trim, then went on an angle to the arm pit.

We turned the tunic right-side out and I tried it on. It fit perfectly, though the boat-neck (as the style of neck I had done was called) stuck up a bit. To fix this we turned the tunic back inside out and rolled the neck hem once and sewed it. I then trimmed the excess off the arms, making sure to leave about an inch.

The whole procedure took about two hours.

Feeling lucky I decided I also wanted to make a hood. I pulled out some yellow material and laid it on the floor and traced a hood Thorfinna had made earlier. As I was cutting the material I realized that it had not been laying perfectly matched up underneath so my top and bottom piece did not quite match up. I simply trimmed the top piece until it resembled the bottom.

I then had to do a double hem along the curved bottom of each side, and on the edge of the face hole. I rolled the face hem in and the bottom edge out. The face edge was a double hem, but the bottom edge was a single hem. I then sewed the trim onto the bottom edge on top of the hem, which would keep the hem from fraying and meant I didn’t have to lose any more fabric by doing the double hem. When I was halfway through putting the trim on the first side I realized that I was sewing it to the inside of the hood, and not the outside. As Thorfinna unstitched my mistake I did the other side.

Once both sides were done I laid them on top of each other so the hood would be inside out and sewed from the bottom up to the face hole, then from the bottom up and around the crown of the head to the top of the face hole. My first seam was too rounded and when I tried the hood on it did not hold its shape. Turning it inside out again I sewed a straighter line from the back of the crown to the front and cut off the excess material. This looked much better. The hood took an hour to make.

Neither piece came out perfectly, but both looked good for a first attempt. What’s more, I’ve overcome my fear of sewing and will be able to produce more of my own garb from now on. And that is a good feeling.



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