Sunday, February 11, 2018

I learned medieval stuff this weekend!

On Saturday, February 10th, 2018, The East Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism held it's annual Arts & Sciences and Bardic Championship the Crown Province of Ostgardr (the greater NYC area). This event gives folks the opportunity to showcase their work in making things and historical research.

I learned so much at this event! I have been in the SCA for about 30 years and while I do my share of research and making things, I have never dedicated myself to a specific project or discipline to the degree and focus that the top levels of this competition do. The remarkable thing about doing this kind of research is that not only do you learn how a thing was done, you can learn why a thing was done, you can learn how a thing fit into a culture, you can appreciate the journey that humans have made in culture and technology.

I learned that "bowed cotton" is fluffier than cotton batting, and that sewing your gambeson pattern pieces as a pillow and beginning the quilting in the middle is a thing that can be done and can benefit your final product. Also that if you make a sample piece of your quilted garment, you can calculate the reduction in measurement of the pattern pieces that happens during quilting so that you know how much to over-size the piece when cutting it.

I learned that people carried wax tablets on which to write things, either they wrote temporary things meant to be erased later, like grocery lists, or else the tablet was turned over to a scribe to copy down in ink, then erased. This meant that some folks carried three, or five, or even ten tablets on which to write things, like business deals or tax assessments. This made me wonder if there were medieval "copy shops," in which scribes worked and one could deliver one's wax tablets to be trans-"scribed."

I learned that papercutting is an art in just about every culture with paper. A fellow at the event is researching evidence that the creative art of papercutting traveled with the technology of papermaking itself as it traveled from culture to culture. Of course, as each culture had different paper (the Chinese had rice, the Germans had wood pulp, and the Aztecs had tree bark), each had different tools to cut the paper (knives, scissors, and chisels, respectively). Multiple layers of different colored paper an also be used for different effects.

I learned that Welsh breadmaking did not involve a lot of wheat flour until late in the medieval period, so bread baked in the 1100's in Wales may have used oat flour, but it seems to be difficult to recreate a recipe and baking technique for bread used in a particular Welsh festival feast without it, using only ingredients that could have been found there then.

Putting all this together, it made me think of a story in which a fellow went to a tailor to have a new gambeson made, and the tailor wrote down his measurements on a wax tablet. He took the tablet to a scribe, who wrote it down on a small piece of parchment. This parchment was lost, however, and found by a papercutter, who used it to cut a design in celebration of the Welsh festival coming up.

I look forward to learning more!

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