Fun with the Skydstrup-style embellishment

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[I realized I should start moving over posts from my pretty much defunct, but also rarely used LiveJournal. So here is something from May 19th, 2011… which explains a bit about spiral edging. I have more research on the Skypstrup find now, but need to dig it out after the move.]

While cruising the web, I found a bit about a blouse found in Skydstrup, Denmark, and dated to 1300-1500 BC. What makes this extra cool, is that it seems to be embellished with a braided type of nalbinding (so nalbinding onto woven material, which was also done with gold thread in the much later Viking era; need to research that more). So far I can only find references to it, with crappy pictures of an early reconstruction. Then I stumbled across a Finnish blog where it looks like she’s applied the same finish to a hat (hibernaatio.blogspot.com/2011/01/uusi-vuosi-uudet-vesivarit-ja.html). Apparently they were selling hats like this at the Saltvik Viking Market in Finland (July every year). Pretty sure it all goes back to the Skydstrup-type finish.

So I whipped up a hat to try it out. This is in Fisherman’s wool, Mammen stitch with F2 connections. The colored edge is in Paton’s. An easy 3-evening project.

Made it long enough to cover the ears.

Here’s a close-up of the stitch. The middle of the top row shows where I started and ended the embellishment. I think I did a decent job there. The bottom shows the back side of the stitch. Mammen is reversible, but there is a slight difference in how it looks where the colored yarn connects to the cream yarn.

How this is accomplished:

You really want to do both colors simultaneously, with two needles and such. Much easier to wrap the colors around each other. What’s going on here is 4 stitches connected to the previous row in green, 4 stitches then without connections, wrap that set around the brown and do the next 4 stitches with connections to the previous row. And then the same for the brown. The colors take turns connecting to the previous row and then wrapping around each other.

I made the hat a little longer so that it could also be folded up, which is comfy and cute. I think the edges will lie down a bit better once its washed and dried and such.

[As a note from 2014, I have since felted this hat. It turned out really soft and the edging still looks great- and definitely didn’t shrink any more than the rest of the hat.]
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Most recent mittens…

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I made some mittens for a friend in time for Estrella War this year. They were a very late delivery on a trade, so I threw in a hat and a large helping of guilt. She wanted these in her heraldic colors plus pink and especially wanted a braided trim like the awesome mittens Sahra made at the Hibernaatiopesäke blog (home of amazing tablet weaving).

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I made these using a very thick stitch similar to one found in mitten fragments at Tuukkala in Finland: four loops on the thumb, three loops behind, F3 connection. So, 3+3+3. I would put this in Hansen’s notation, but I have the flu and my brain won’t work. The braid trim in is a regular Finnish stitch, 2+2. The color patterning is inspired by the now classic Eura mitten reconstruction by Krista Vajanto, in her master’s thesis.

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The matching hat is in a 2+2 basic Finnish stitch and the trim is not braided, but rather two spiraling bits of nalbinding.

iPhone-2014.02.25-19.12.57.886As many mittens as I make easily, these were a project of fail for a while. I remade them three times because I didn’t like them, and remade the thumbs on the final set about six times. But I was finally content with the fit and was very happy to have finished them in time. The thick stitch definitely makes shaping a little tougher, though I’ve used that stitch on a number of hats without issues. On the plus side, I did learn how to FedEx stuff to Estrella and got a pretty funny text message when it arrived.

Catching Up

After a long hiatus of not posting things, I’m going to try and catch up a bit. I have a pile of half finished write-ups, some documentation I’ve never started to add in, and a bunch of new projects with pictures hanging out on my phone and camera. Moving to a new job, setting up a new lab, and teaching all new classes are quite time consuming tasks, to say the least. 

That time I milked almonds and made some tasty tarts

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Any student of medieval cookery quickly learns that almond milk is a staple of the upper class kitchen across many countries. I figured if I were to go through the fun of making my own almond milk, I should use it for a nice dish that would feature the flavor, like some tarts. So here’s a bit of documentation and kitchen fun.

Page 1 of  Royal Library of Copenhagen, Ny sampling, nr. 66. 8vo; this page shows two recipes for almond oil

Page 1 of Royal Library of Copenhagen, Ny sampling, nr. 66. 8vo; this page shows two recipes for almond oil

I made almond pies, based on a single recipe found in 4 different manuscripts in Northern Europe, dated no later than the end of the 13th century. Grewe and Hieatt published this collection of 35 recipes, with translations from the original Danish, Icelandic, and Low German[1]. They write that the original version of this cookbook may date as early as the 12th century, making these recipes some of the earliest recorded. The evidence is apparently strong of an original in Low German, but as with many early cookbooks, connections seem to be in place with the centers of medical training in southern Europe (Grewe and Hieatt mention Salerno, specifically, in the context of these recipes). However, as noted by Grewe and Hieatt, the recipes are decidedly northern European, lacking typical southern ingredients like olive oil and rice.

I have slowly been working my way through the recipes in the manuscript. I chose to work on the almond pies as part of a larger project developing an authentic Nordic picnic basket for events. Almonds were an incredibly important ingredient in medieval cooking, especially in the form of almond milk. A major use was for fast days, where almond milk could be used as a replacement for animal milk, for instance as described in Le Viandier, a 14th century recipe collection[2]. From a food safety issue, almond milk keeps longer than animal milks. Almonds remain a very common ingredient in Nordic and Finnish cooking, and like now, would need to be imported from warmer climates (like the Mediterranean).

Original Recipe Sources

The earliest version of the recipe comes from the Danish court of around 1300. This cookbook starts with recipes for almond oils, almond butter, and an almond milk meant to imitate sour sheep’s milk. The recipe for almond pies is recipe IV in each of these manuscripts.

How almonds are used in a pie.[3]

One should make thick milk of almond kernels, and make a shell of dough, and pour in the milk, and seal the top with the same dough, and salt it, and bake it in a hot oven.

The next version has changed very little in over 100 years.

Next, one should take almond kernels, and make a thick milk out of them, and make a [pastry] pot, and place the milk in it, and cover the milk with the dough, and salt it. And let it bake in an oven.[4]

The final version, from the late 15th century, similarly changes little.

How almonds are used in a pie. One should make a thick almond milk, and place it in a pastry cup made of dough, and with a little salt. Then seal it above with dough, and bake it in an oven as other pies.[5]

Unlike other recipes I have studied from these manuscripts, the additional versions give very little extra detail. This is a testament to the relative simplicity of the dish, but also indicates this was likely a staple food source. In their commentary, Grewe and Hieatt draw parallels between this almond pie and the better known dariole custard tarts from England and France. In Forme of Cury[6], one of the best known cookery books of the middle ages (dated to 1390), “daryoles” are made with a custard from cow’s cream, almonds, and eggs and spiced with sugar and saffron. The Nordic almond pie is however much less rich.

Testing and Redaction

While a recipe like this one seems brief and simple, like all early medieval recipes, the details which are left out can be complex. This requires quite a bit of interpretation and extrapolation from general knowledge of medieval cooking techniques.

Almond Milk

The first step is to make a thick almond milk. Our focal recipes give no details about how to make almond milk. Luckily this is a well-known technique. The general principle is to smash a bunch of almonds, add water, and drain it. Chiquart, possibly the most famous of medieval cookbook authors describes making almond milk thus:

28. And again, flans of almond milk: according to the quantity of flans which you are making take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed; and take very clean fair water and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue which is fair and clean according to the quantity of flans which he should make….[7]

Almond milk is also facing a modern revival and there are many recipes available, usually with additions like vanilla, honey, or cinnamon. I noticed that most modern recipes favored soaking the almonds in water overnight. Because modern almonds in the United States are processed differently than medieval almonds (ours are pasteurized and sometimes even fumigated with propylene oxide)[8], I wondered if this soaking step was necessary because of these modern processing methods. I tried making almond milk both with and without presoaking; pre-soaking results in a plumper almond that grinds much more easily.

Chiquart’s recipe blanches the almonds, which is placing them briefly in boiling water. The main benefit of such a step is the skin is able to be more easily removed[9]. In modern cooking blanching almonds is done primarily for this purpose; almond skin can have a slightly bitter taste. The next step in the recipe is to pound the almonds into a fine pulp. The best way to do this is with a mortar and pestle. I pounded a small amount of almonds by hand, and then used a blender for the rest. In period, I would have had a kitchen assistant to do such a task; modernly my minions stay in the laboratory doing real science and aren’t available for kitchen tasks, thus the blender.

Boiling water is then added to the pounded mixture and allowed to steep, then it is drained through cheesecloth. An important point of interpretation is what the “thick milk” in the original recipes is. I thought it could be almond milk made with less water, or almond milk still retains some particulate matter (ground almonds) in it, or an almond milk that is then thickened by simmering. Made with less water doesn’t work because whatever liquid is there gets squeezed out of the cheesecloth the same way, you just get less liquid of the same density. Thickened with additional puree also doesn’t work- the remaining almond paste is quite chalky both in appearance and taste. I finally ended up with an almond milk that I thickened over heat, just as one might start to make a boiled custard from cow’s milk.

My redaction is as follows:

  1. Soak 3 cups of raw almonds overnight in a bowl of water.
  2. Drain almonds and place them in a pan of water and bring to a boil.
  3. Immediately remove the almonds and rinse with cold water (this stops the cooking process).
  4. Allow almonds to dry, and then remove the skin (it can be more or less squeezed off)
  5. Pound or use a blender to reduce almonds to a fine ground. If using a blender, you must add a little bit of water to get a nice puree.
  6. Add boiling water to provide the thickness desired. A 1:2 ratio of almonds to water makes a nice milk. For a “thick milk,” which is required for the current recipe, I used a 1:1 ratio.
  7. Sieve the mixture through a metal strainer lined with cheesecloth.
  8. For thickened milk, simmer while stirring over the stove. This takes a rather long time.

almond milk process

Pastry Dough

There are dozens of ways to make pastry dough. The original recipes refer to a pot, cup, and shell of dough. I interpret this as a relatively stiff dough, which can stand on its own and will hold the filling. In  modern baking terms, this is more like a tart shell and less like a pie crust. In making medieval deserts, I have had the best success with the following period recipe from A Propre new booke of Cokery (England, 1545). For this I used an online transcription, this one from Daniel Myers.

To make a shotre paest for tart

Take fine floure and a curttesy of faire water and a disshe of swete butter and a little saffron and the yolkes of two egges  and make it thin and tender as ye may. (“A Propre new booke of Cokery,” 1545)[10]

My redaction for the pastry:

200g flour

1 pinch of salt

100g salted butter

2 egg yolks, beaten

I added salt to the original recipe for taste; this takes the place of the salt to be added to the top of the pastry in the almond pie recipe. I left out the saffron in keeping with the simplicity of the filling, and the general lack of saffron in the other recipes in the focal collection. To make the dough, I mixed the butter into the flour using my fingers. This method works quite well and results in a nice coarse sand consistency. I added the egg yolks, and the water a spoonful at a time until the dough was a good consistency, about ¼ cup of water total. My goal was something slightly more moist than a modern shortbread dough, but much more firm than a modern pie crust. As with any pastry dough, it is best chilled before shaping. I wrap mine in wax paper and chill for a few hours. This is my go-to recipe for pastry.

Shaping and Filling the Pies

Because I am interested in adapting this for picnic packing purposes, I made a series of single serving pies rather than one large pie. To do this I separated the dough into 6 sections, one per pie. For each section I separated 1/3 of the dough for the pastry lid. I then shaped cups out of the remainder of the dough- approximated the size of a modern muffin tin.

Then fill the pies with the thickened almond milk, and flatten the lid between the hands, and close the pastry. I baked the pastries at 375F, which is a decently hot oven, using a baking stone. This mimics to some extent the baking conditions of the period ovens I have seen in Europe and in demonstration areas like that at Estrella Wars in the past.

Not the prettiest, but they taste delicious.

Not the prettiest, but they taste delicious.

Some Final Thoughts

I think these pies will be great in a period Nordic picnic basket for events. Anyone familiar with traditional Nordic cooking knows that the flavors are often understated, and these are really great in the classic Nordic sense of simple flavors where you can appreciate each ingredient. I have made these a few times now, although I have to admit I purchase the almond milk, because I really, really hate getting the skins off the almonds. Some forms of blisters should just not be necessary in my modern every day life without kitchen minions. I’ve also used a little flour to thicken the almond milk more quickly, and to really cheat, I’ve made a great silky filling with corn starch as a thickener.


[1] Grewe, R. and C. B. Hieatt (2001). Libellus de arte coquinaria: an early northern cookbook. Tempe, Arizona, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

[2] Taillevent: Viandier. Original Vatican manuscript found at http://www.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/vi-vat.htm, an excellent transcription and translation found at http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier1.html

[3] Royal Library of Copenhagen, Ny sampling, nr. 66. 8vo; original in Danish dated from 1300, believed to be a copy of an earlier text

[4] Herzog August Bibliotek von Wolfenbüttel, Helmst. 1213, in Low German, dated to 15th century

[5] Royal Irish Academy of Dublin, 23 D 43, original in Icelandic and dated to the last part of the 15th century

[6] The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II

[7] Du fait de cuisine by Maistre Chiquart, translated by Elizabeth Cook, online transcription at http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Du_Fait_de_Cuisine/Du_fait_de_Cuisine.html

[9]  Child, J.; Bertholle, L.; Beck, S. 1961, 1983, 2001. Mastering the art of French cooking. Alfred A. Knopf.

[10] A Propre new booke of Cokery. (1545).   Retrieved 3 July, 2010, from http://www.medievalcookery.com/notes/pnboc1575.txt

Special Category for Barony of Tir Ysgithr A&S Competition

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As Kingdom A&S Champion, I am sponsoring a special category in my barony’s arts and sciences competition this year with the hope of inspiring more people to enter. The theme is animal barding:

Bard your dog, cat, ferret, whatever, with heraldry! You can use yours, the barony’s, the kingdom’s or someone else’s heraldry as long as it is registered or in submission with the SCA College of Heralds. Living animals, unless they are working animals cannot be brought to the event, pictures of the animal wearing the item and the actual item are required for the competition. Barding a stuffed or model animal of any kind is also acceptable and encouraged. Children’s entries are welcome.

Some rules:

  1. You need documentation. 2 pages MAX. We want the blazon of the heraldry you are representing, what inspired your design, and how you made the barding. Pictures are awesome. If your entry is barding for a live animal, your documentation MUST include a photo of the animal wearing the barding. Photos of barded cats will be closely scrutinized for image manipulation. Photos of the injuries sustained while fitting and dressing a cat will garner extra points.
  2. Barding must be on a non-human animal. Spousal and child barding doesn’t count. They have their own traditional categories whereas stuffed bears do not.
  3. The judging will be based on the standard Atenveldt judging sheets for heraldic display, but with a great emphasis on creativity. The focus for this competition is on the “C” in SCA. Make that heraldry work!
  4. Points accumulated in this special category will not be eligible to count towards the baronial individual and household champion competitions.
  5. Prizes will be awarded for best overall, most creative, best workmanship, and any other areas we deem necessary.

My not-so-secret agenda: I want to get people entering and writing some short documentation to find it isn’t actually physically painful (unless you are managing extreme numbers of paper cuts or tend to drop reference books on your toes). Also, I think this will be hilarious.

New silk banner…

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Wars are a great time to fly some banners. I helped make a few last year but still didn’t have one myself. In the past few months my household tried out a few different methods in making a batch of banners. Here is how mine turned out:

Darian and Hunter are holding out my banner for my husband's camera work.

The process went something like this:

Like most people, I made up some design elements on the computer, printed them out and taped them down to my paper. I also did a lot of measuring and lining with a ruler and various pieces of string.

I taped down the lightweight silk over the paper and traced the design with a pencil. Then I enlisted the help of friends to get it attached to the frame. These are the PVC frames that Sir Jakob von Groningen made which have a nice peg system for quickly resizing the frame. As usual, I managed to snap my hands at least 6 times with rubber bands.

In this clearly exciting photo, I've brushed on an egg wash over the entire stretched silk. This was dried egg whites, reconstituted with a little bit of egg yolk and whipped. Once that settled, we had the glair for the banner.

Once the egg wash dried, it was time to apply the dye. With the egg wash, the extra protein binds to the dye and keeps it from traveling all over the silk like it normally would. This was my first time using an egg wash and not a gutta resist method. The lines were nice and crisp.

More dye... I liked the green my friend Golda had on her banner, so I mixed up a color similarly- green with an awful lot of extra yellow. The dyes were Jacquard silk dyes from Dharma Trading Company, which must be set with steam.

After some hours, and the help of my friend Icka the Good (aka Yasha the Poisoner), here is the finished banner. We got the nice watercolor-like effect I was hoping for.

The banner dried and was rolled up with everyone else’s and was placed into a steamer. I then washed it out with a little Synthrapol and a lot of water. Very, very little dye came off the banner. Also, for the record, Synthrapol causes me a wicked bad migraine. Awful awful. Will not forget that in the future.

Something about the weight of the silk and the egg wash made my colors quite muted. For instance, the black in the lettering of my motto was 4 or 5 applications of dye. It looks nice with the watercolor effect, but I think was a little washed out looking while flying.

Hats for Estrella Gift Baskets

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We just got back from Estrella War and are recovering. I made a batch of hats for the royal gift baskets Their Majesties gave to their Cousins in the heraldic colors of each kingdom. Since nalbinding is not the quickest process in the world, and I was dealing with a relapse of an annoying illness I have, this took a while.

In order of Kingdom precedence….

Hat for the West:

Single-ply worsted weight green yarn in a Finnish stitch. Skypstrup-style embellishment in two shades of yellow. Large enough to fit an Uther.

Hat for Caid:

Caid has warm weather, so here I used a Mammen stitch in a slightly thicker yarn. The embellishment is in a thinner cream yarn.

This is a fun, loopy finish where I connected two stitches to the hat followed by 6 stitches unconnected, then skipping two stitches on the hat before connecting again. It makes a ruffled, sort-of lace finish.

Hat for An Tir:

Finnish turning stitch with worsted weight single-ply wool. I just love this hat.

Hat for the Outlands:

Finnish turning stitch, also with worsted weight single-ply wool. I made this a fairly bulky stitch.

So now that gift basket hats are over, I can get some of my other recent project up to the blog, and finish that giant pile of remaining projects!

Mittens for a gift basket

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Here is a recent set of mittens I made for the gift basket Their Majesties Craven and Elzbieta took with them to Gulf Wars last month. The craftsmanship of the pieces our artisans of Atenveldt were contributing was just amazing.

I made these out of a worsted weight single-ply wool from here in sunny Arizona. I made them in a Finnish stitch with my usual mitten construction techniques (see some previous posts), but what was new was the cuff finishing technique. I made ruffles!

Here’s how I made the ruffles:

1) Make a few stitches without connecting to the previous row.

2) Then turn the stitches around with increases in the next few loops (much like starting from a new round).

3) Return to the mitten with normal connections (no increases), then add a few stitches to the cuff before repeating step 1. The fewer stitches added here, the more ruffly the edge becomes. I used a few trials to get the amount I liked best.

After a quick post to Facebook for a poll from friends, I decided to add a little embroidery to enhance the edges. Just a simple chain stitch in a cream wool-silk that I use for weaving.

This might be a little much of an edge on a hat but it is perfect for mittens.

Tablet weaving a selvage into existing fabric

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There are a number of reasons tablet weave into existing fabric. For instance, you can finish edges of dresses, to combine lining or facings with the outer fabric (sturdy and decorative). You can use it to piece fabric together, described with many types of embroidered bags. In both of these cases, a needle and thread form the weft, and the tablet weaving essentially forms a tube around the raw edges.

You can also use tablet weaving to create a selvage onto fabric. It makes a nice finish, and more handily, allows you to apply the finishing techniques from warp-weighted woven fabric onto store-bought fabric. Satu Hovi, for instance, describes this as one of the steps in faking the finished look of an iron age Finnish apron. That is the application I am describing here.

The process is quite similar to how a piece of fabric woven on a warp-weighted loom would be finished. Hoffmann describes this process at length in her warp-weighted looms book (which is totally worth hunting down). At the end of the weaving process, the warp of the cloth would be used as the weft of the tablet weaving, with threads of the cloth’s warp taken through the tablet weaving shed, the cards turned, and taken back through the shed a second time and then trimmed, making a very tidy end to the weaving. Alternatively, this tablet woven edge could also be used to attach the spirals found in Finnish iron age shawls, or the fringed edges found in numerous shawls in northern iron age Europe (Collingwood has some nice photos of these).

I have found the best way to do this is an ad hoc loom with the warp stretched over a table. This allows the fabric to lie flat on the table and makes it easy to pull the fringe through the shed. Less fabric wrangling.

The tablet-woven edges in the Finnish iron age textiles are typically produced during the weaving process. As with other warp weighted weaving, tablet weaving is used to set up the warp (see Hoffman for descriptions of this), and then also used to finish the final edge once weaving is complete. In the Finnish finds of the crusades era (that’s Baltic crusades, you Jerusalem-focused folks), these selvedges were likely woven using cards oppositely threaded with two threads. Because this makes an edge that isn’t attractive or particularly solid, I threaded the bordering cards with 4 threads (also described in the Sarkki thesis of awesomeness). A threading diagram would essentially be a border card, 2 cards threaded A-C, two threaded B-D, 2 cards threaded A-C, two threaded B-D, and a final border card. These cards can all be threaded in a S or Z fashion, as long as all are identical. I liked using JaggerSpun Maine Line 2/20 worsted wool thread, which closely matched the weight of my fabric threads.

The scan is Figure 9 from Seija Sarkki’s thesis on crusade-era tablet weaving in Finland. “Kangas” means fabric and these sketches show the finishing tablet woven edges on some finds from eastern Finland. That brick-like look comes from the diagonal threading on the cards. The diagonal-looking yarns on her diagrams denote where fringe was attached (the middle two sketches)

Now you need the weft for the tablet weaving. This comes from creating fringe from the edge of the fabric you are going to finish. Grab a tapestry needle and scissors and a pile of patience. You want about 2.5 or 3 times the width of the selvage you are going to weave. That’s a lot of careful removal of threads.

The number of threads you use in the weft per turn of the cards depends on the density of the cloth, the thickness of your tablet weaving warp, and how hard you beat the weaving inbetween turns. Each set of threads will be used for two turns.

I ended up using a set of tweezers to help pull the weft all the way through on the second turn for each. I tend to use all sort of items as beaters when I weave- in this case, closed embroidery scissors worked quite well. Either as you go, or at the end, you trim off the excess fringe (which of course takes some care).

How to deal with the edges and all that extra warp? In the case of the Finnish aprons, these threads have a built in use: they get braided and strung with metal spirals. Otherwise, they could be finished in any number of ways. The most elegant solution is probably to simply weave them back into the selvage with a needle.

Here is the finished edge for an apron I made last spring…

I am not sure what I might apply this particular technique for other than my iron-age Finnish garments, or for finishing warp weighted loom projects (when I finally build that loom).  I would love to weave a shawl with the lovely finished edges, spirals, and fringe.

Some References…

  • Collingwood, P. (1982). The techniques of tablet weaving. London, Faber and Faber.
  • Hoffman, Marta. 1964. The warp-weighted loom: studies in the history and technology of an ancient implement. Studia Norvegica No 14. Universitetsforlaget.

For this kind of edging on Finnish garments specifically:

  • Lehtosalo-Hilander, P.-L. (1984). Ancient Finnish Costumes. Helsinki, Finnish Archaeological Society.
  • Lehtosalo-Hilander, P.-L. (2001). Euran puku ja muut muinaisvaatteet. Vammala, Euran Muinaispukutoimikunta.
  • Sarkki, S. (1979). Suomen Ristiretkiaikaiset Nauhat. Arkeologian Laitos. Helsinki, Helsingin Yliopisto.

Some recent illuminations

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Been working on lots of scrolls lately. Being the baronial Scribe, plus continuing working for the Southern Scriptorium keeps me off the streets. Here are a few of the recent efforts.

The first was one for the kingdom that went out a couple of weeks ago. I did the illumination and Hanim Ari Usni did the calligraphy.

The next ones are clickable for higher resolution…

Here's one for the barony. I did the C&I for this one.

Another one for the barony (C&I by me). The recipient has bats in her heraldry (which is black, white, and red).

This was a kingdom scroll from the fall. The highlights get a strange reflectance with the scanner...