Archive for May, 2017

Day 25 was a disastrously failed experiment in walnut dyeing. Everything I had read led me to believe that this stuf stained whatever it touched and needed no mordant. Not so. I have had a jar sitting in my basement since forever that I finally dumped into and iron pot, heated, and added some wool that had been soaking for a couple of hours. I let the whole thing simmer for several hours and then sit overnight. When I finally rinsed the wool this afternoon, the colour was almost identical to the original. I have more husks in the basement, so maybe I’ll try following actual instructions, like these: Walnut dye.

Instructions would also have been good for my Day 26 clean-up project. My friend Lucia had grape vines that are taking over her yard and wanted them gone because her dog kept eating them. When I was at her place a few weeks ago, everything was still quite frozen so I said I would come back later to deal with them. Then spring happened. When I went to her place today, the vines were in leaf and already had tiny grapes starting. Undaunted, I spent several hours cutting them down so I could get to the roots. But the roots were too much for me so I ended up filling my car with branches and heading to my community garden plot. First, though, I made a quick stop home to check the internet to see how to transplant grapes. I have done it all wrong. I should have cut my rootstock earlier in the spring when they were still bare. Undaunted, I picked the best pieces and dug holes for 31 of them along the chain link fence separating our garden from the playing field. I trimmed off all the little grapes so more energy will go to root production, but left the leaves because I figure that they are needed by now. They could have done with bigger holes, enriched soil, and more space between them, but I have done what I can. Hopefully some will take and in a couple of years we will be able to harvest grapes. I have one vine that Lucia had grown in a pot that I hope will grow up the hydro pole at the front of my house. Right beside it, I have planted a proper piece of root stock that I ordered from a gardening company. If all the garden vines fail, I will follow these instructions on Propagating grapes using my vines for next year.


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Day 22 – Finished putting lace onto the camicia (at last!)

Day 23 – I pulled out an old tunic that I may have worn once, and started working on how to remake it so I get more use out of it. The hem will be shortened significantly, and I will use that fabric to make some sleeves. I won’t be able to get the nice tight sleeves I would like, but I can work on making a somewhat more period sleeve pattern. I read a really good article about fitting sleeves last week and I want to test it out.

Day 24 – Today I am clearing out a couple of ancient projects in anticipation of something new. A couple of years ago, I was given black walnuts to make dye. I dutifully put the green husks into water and got a lovely black liquid that has been sitting on my work bench ever since. Even before that, I was given several fleeces that turned out to be mostly useless. However, I did clean and card some of it with the idea of making felt. That didn’t happen. However, I recently got excited about the idea of making the medieval equivalent of a French beret. I don’t want a knitted Tudor flat cap (at least not yet). My inspiration is more along the lines of the Italian Renaissance caps. Many are red, and none have the shape of the stereotypical French beret, but this one has that little tuft at the top, and might flatten to a French beret shape, so this is my goal.

Man with Red Hat, attributed to Vittore Carpaccio (1490-93, Museo Correr, Venice)


I soaked my wool to get it good and wet, heated my walnut dye in an iron pot, and added the wool to the pot. I didn’t have enough dye for the amount of wool I added, so I expect to get more of a brownish grey than black, but that’s okay. It will still be more interesting than plain yellowish white. Once it has simmered for a while longer, I’ll let it dry and then figure out wet felting.

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This has been a mixed bag of outdoors activities. On Day 16, I did some weeding and pruning in my garden. The weeds went into a pan as part of my supper. I find my motivation for weeding is much higher if I can eat what I pull. The branches were saved to be used as the uprights for a set of storage baskets  I’m making.

On Day 17, I started stripping the bark off the branches and fitting them into the holes my friend Aelfwyn drilled into the first of three pieces of pine that will serve as the base of one of the baskets. It wasn’t much A&S, but it made a splendid pile of shavings on my kitchen floor. I also spent some time planning and pricing materials for a garden bench to go around my big tree. The Medieval Garden, by Sylvia Landsberg, has information on different kinds of benches, and even some plans for simple benches.

Day 18 started out with a clean up of my oil paints. I have started doing a little oil painting with some friends, after nearly 15 years of not painting. Someone posted a question about how to open stuck tubes of paint in an oil painting group I follow, so I followed Somme of the helpful advice and was able to rescue almost all the paints. I put them lid down in a bowl of boiling water and let them sit for a minute or two. Then I used a pair of pliers, wiped all the paint off the necks and lids of the tubes, and sealed the tubes again. Then it was back to the garden (sort of). I spent the better part of five hours walking the fences and making repairs in the fields where my horse lives. It was hard work and had me thinking a lot about the work involved in making fences without the aid of power tools.

Day 19 was spent hunting for asparagus, planning, planting and weeding my gardens, and cleaning up various projects (finally finished that camicia and finished the first storage box).

Day 20 was bliss. It’s a long weekend here, so I had a free day. First up was the annual set-up at my community garden plot. I added manure to, and planted more things in, my little plot and helped set up the rain barrels. Then it was working on my own garden – mostly weeding, but also planting most of my herb seedlings.

Yesterday, day 21, I finished the basket. It is based on a square base found in the medieval level in York (Coppergate). You can find a picture of it in “Wood and Woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York” by Carole A. Morris (York Archaeological Trust, 2000, p. 2272). Some of my uprights and woven rods are willow, but most of the woven rods are lilac since I seem to be coppicing a lilac bush in my back yard. I keep cutting it down but it just won’t die, and the branches come up nice and straight. They don’t have quite enough give to weave easily, however.


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When I lived in Central and South America, I got quite interested in indigenous cultures that were contemporary with medieval Europe, as well as the early colonial period of the late Renaissance. I also got addicted to pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran tortilla stuffed with fillings such as flower buds, cheese, beans, and pork. Tonight I am making pupusas for dinner, so today’s research project is on the history of the pupusa.

According to Wikipedia, pupusa may be a Spanish rendering of popotlax, which is a combination of the Pipil or Nahuatl words popotl meaning large, stuffed, bulky, and tlaxkalli which means tortilla. It may also come from the Pipil language, pupusawa. Wikipedia also claims that they were created by the Pipil people, and the evidence comes from the instruments for their creation found at Joya de Cerén and other archaeological sites. I don’t find that argument compelling, as the required tools are pretty simple, and they are used for other things too. The key items are a metate to grind dried corn, some sort of bowl for the nixtmalizado (lye-treated) cornmeal and water to form dough, and a griddle to cook the pupusas over a fire (comal). Comales may have been introduced to El Salvador by Nahuat speakers migrating from Mexico (Before the Volcano Erupted: The Ancient Cerèn Village in Central America, p 196). This migration (or possibly multiple migrations), however, took place some time around the 9th C (The Indigenous History of El Salvador, 03/02/2014). Cerén was inhabited by Maya, and the site was destroyed by a volcano in about 600 AD.

Cerén has at least five metates (Dwelling in the Ancestral Joya de Cerén Village, p 29) but no comales, and I couldn’t find any clear notes on what other cooking containers might have been found as the museum is currently closed. I couldn’t find any pictures of the metates from Cerén either, but a fancy one from about the same period was found at Chiltiupan (Dwelling, p. 24). The metates from Cerén are all described as being groundstone, so likely volcanic basalt, of the type that was used up until very recently.

Comales do show up at other sites, such as Ciudad Vieja, the original capital of colonial El Salvador (The End of Pre-Columbian Pipil Civilization, Ciudad Vieja, El Salvador, p 21). I also found a reference to censer plates at Cerén (Volcanism, Household Archaeology, and Formation Processes in the Zapotitan Valley, El Salvador p 167), and a note in an article on Guatemalan late Classical ceramics that comales are sometimes referred to as censer plates, though they have very different purposes (Late Post-classic Period Ceramics of the Western Highlands, Guatemala, pp 113-114). Another clue that cornmeal was used in dough form for pupusas comes from small water dishes set by the metates. The water dishes were used to keep the maize moist (Exploring Culinary Practices Through GIS Modeling at Joya de Cerén, El Salvador, p 114), and one of the water dishes actually had finger swipe marks in it (Volcanism, p. 171).

Here is a picture of my metate, a gift from my friend Salvadoran Francisco, along with an earthenware comal, and my pupusas.


One of the wonderful things about this research project has been the discovery of how much work has been done to preserve the archaeological treasures of El Salvador. Joya de Cerén is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is often described as the Pompeii of the Americas. It has the only pre-colonial domed roof structure in the Americas, among many other interesting features. I loved going there, and the neighboring site of San Andres as often as I could. Sadly, both needed significant infrastructure investments to protect the artifacts and improve the visitor experience. The two links below show what it was like when I lived in El Salvador, and what has been done since. Other sites that weren’t even open to the public when I lived there are now tourist destinations and an important part of recognizing the Mayan and Pipil contributions to the country.

Upgrades to Joya de Cerén      San Andrés

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Since my last post, I have been doing some repeat activities: Day 11 was fixing the gathers on my camicia. Day 12 was more work on the camicia plus a bit of tablet weaving. Day 13 was my riding lesson, so I tried to apply all of Xenophon’s guidance on horsemanship. I’m pleased to say that it went pretty well, as I managed to get Fancy (my horse) to do leg yields at the trot, and she was excellent about paying attention to my leg and seat cues to start, stop and bend as required.

Tonight is my weekly belly dance class, so I am doing a little research about the history of Middle Eastern dance. We are learning to dance with trays on our heads, to the music of Rock the Casbah, so this is clearly not medieval dance! In fact, there isn’t solid much information about medieval Middle Eastern dance, through I did find a few interesting tidbits, plus some ideas for costuming.

It a appears that modern belly dance has its roots primarily in Egypt and Turkey (if we discount the European and Hollywood dances that were inspired by it and are now the most visible interpretation of Middle Eastern dance). In Egypt, the Ghawazee (Rom street performers) and Alawim (slaves and courtesans trained in the arts of poetry, music and dance, may have been the main “professional” dancers. Dance in family contexts, such as weddings, is a traditional activity that may also date back to the middle ages (1). In Turkey, there are references from the 1400s to traveling performers called chengis, who danced using intricate hip and torso movements (2). Elsewhere, I found references to a Turkish gypsy dance style called Tsengui (3).

From there, I started looking at possible dance costumes. I found three sites worth exploring further to understand what might have been worn. The first is available only on Scribd.com: A Step Further From Fantasy By: Lady Álfrún ketta (aka Umm Hurayrah bint Khalid). She offers lots of pre-1600 images and clothing items, as well as advice on patterns, fabrics, and a bibliography. The next is Rashid’s Persian Patterns, with patterns for an undershirt, pants, caftans and footwear, along with advice on appropriate accessories such as belts and hats. Finally, Mistress Rozalynd offers pattern construction advice in two documents: Persian Pattern Layouts and Persian Underwear. These are class notes so they include extensive bibliographies and lots of pictures, but not all the detailed instructions on how to measure and construct the patterns.

Gypsy dancer

Detail from ZIGUENERS (Gypsies) Part 1 of 2 . Flemish Tapestry probably from Tournai c1501-1525. Currently in the collection of Gaasbeek Castle, Belgium. [ “.Detail from ZIGUENERS (Gypsies) Part 1 of 2 . Flemish Tapestry probably from Tournai Currently in the collection of Gaasbeek Castle, Belgium.






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I love nougat. To me, it is the quintessential food from the south of France. Therefore, I couldn’t wait to try a nougat recipe after the frustration of the meringues earlier this week.

Ib Rabin al-Tujibi, in Fadalat al-Khiwan, a 13th C Arabic cookbook (from La cuisine andalouse, un art de vivre XIe-IIIe siècle by Lucie Bolens) offers this recipe for turron blanc et tender:

On verse du bon miel dans un pot, a feu doux, tout en remuant avec une a cane a sucre ou une ferrule ayant a son extremite un revetement de cuivre. Quand il est bien chaud, on le retire du feu, tout en continuant a remuer, sans arreter jusqu’à ce que cela commence un s’epaissir. On verse ensuite quatre blancs d’oeufs pour chaque livre de miel et on bat pour un bon mélange. On remet sur feu doux, sans cesser de remuer jusqu’au debut de l’épaississement. On peut, si on veut, y verser des noix et des amandes pelees. (Rabin, number 380).

Put good honey in a pot, over low heat, stirring with a sugar cane or a rod coated with copper at one end. When it is good and hot, remove from fire, continuing to stir constantly, until it starts to thicken. Then add four egg whites for each pound of honey and beat until well mixed. Then return it to a low fire, stirring continuously until it starts to get thick. One can, if one wishes, add nuts and peeled almonds.

The Medieval Spanish Chef offers an Irresistible nougat recipe, which is what I used as the basis for my recipe. I didn’t have enough rose water to use the Spanish Chef’s recipe, but too much to simply halve it. I also didn’t have a candy thermometer, so I just eyeballed it.


  • 1 1/4 lb rose water
  • 1 c egg whites (approximately 8 egg whites)
  • 1/4 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 lb sugar
  • 1/2 lb almonds

Mix together the rose water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let it boil for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool a little. Meanwhile, line a cake pan (I used one that was about 7 x 13 x 2 inches) with aluminium foil. Coat the foil with oil and then sprinkle with the powdered sugar. Beat the egg whites until they form peaks (or until they are nice and airy, at least – I got tired of waiting for peaks). Add the sugar and rose water mixture a tablespoon full at a time to the beaten egg whites, while continuing to beat. When they are fully combined, keep beating for another five minutes. Return the mixture to the heat and reheat it while continuing to beat. When it’s nice and fluffy white again, add the almonds and stir quickly, then pour into the pan. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours before cutting into pieces.



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I’m feeling very proud of myself. I successfully set up a new pattern – a simple 10 card design that turns continuously in the same direction – despite lots of “help” from my string-loving cat. This pattern is based on a find from Viking-age Oseberg. My only regret is that the patten is a little too subtle. I like the blue and yellow combination and think it will work well for the modest clothing appropriate to my station. However, the original was in silk and linen, which may have been brightly dyed for contrast as would have been appropriate for the high status of the person in the rich grave where the band was found.

You can see where I had the threading pattern wrong at the beginning, giving me rectangles instead of parallelograms. I fixed it so the last three repeats are correct and it should be fine going forward.



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