Posts Tagged ‘Merovingian brooches’

I spent two days at the shop of my friend Brenda (www.brendaroy.com), as I was in serious need of adult supervision on the brooches. Also, it appears, in serious need of different tools. Brenda showed me how to use various gravers, rifflers, sharpened files and other tools (tubes, nails, etc. that had been adapted for various jobs), and then set me to work. After working until my eyes were crossed from exhaustion, this is how far I had gotten:

It seemed like a lot at the time, but we were back in the shop bright and early the next morning. I worked for the better part of another full day, mostly just cleaning up tiny flaws. This meant digging out little bits of wax, straightening and deepening lines, smoothing rough spots and then sharpening up edges that had  gotten too smoothed out. The end result was this:

In then end, Brenda pronounced herself moderately satisfied. The brooch is now clean enough for casting, though I should now try hollowing away a bit from the back. I am also instructed to start work on the second brooch (which will undoubtedly be better now that I have gotten some practice). Once I am reasonably satisfied with the second brooch, I can go back to this one and see if there is more cleaning to do. Then I can check the second brooch and do the same thing.

One of the changes on the second brooch will to be to carve the design before thinning it to the thickness of the first brooch. The first one ended up being just over 2 mm thick, which was a little nerve-wracking to carve. In addition, it left very little to remove from the back. Though the backs are reasonably flat in most of the examples I can find, there are hollowed out areas where the decoration is raised (e.g. Kunst und Handwerk im Fruhen Mittelalter, p 47). By removing excess, I will lower the weight pulling on clothes, and the cost of casting.


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I was lucky enough to get a chance to visit the National Archaeological Museum in Paris this weekend, which has a rather fine collection of Merovingian stuff. I have wanted to visit since the early 1990’s, when I first started going to Paris on business and discovered the research about Arnegunde, whose tomb in St Denis had been excavated some years before.  It was worth the wait!

All those brooches are the inspiration for the project I am working on.

Arnegunde’s treasure:

Some of the shoe buckles are missing from this picture, along with the gold thread remnants of the trim on her clothes, but still, it is easy to see why this was such an important find. Modern DNA analysis and research have led to a complete rethinking about Arnegunde and her clothing. I think it makes much more sense than the original interpretation.

I’ll be organizing all my notes over the next few days and posting new pictures as I absorb all of what I learned.

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This weekend I was given a large bag of walnuts. From a quick read at http://www.practicalprimitive.com/skillofthemonth/blackwalnutdye.html, I have enough walnuts for five gallons of dye. I have started hulling them, but without gloves it is messy (even using a plastic bag to protect my hands). I have done the first 15 walnuts and set the rest out to dry. I’ll keep working at them over the next few days.

I did several hours of drop spinning this weekend, and ended up with two nice skeins of plied wool. I talked with someone else who spinning dyed wool and she said she hadn’t had major problems with felting, so perhaps I will try dyeing some of my unspun wool, to compare with what I get using skeins. If nothing else, this would allow me to clear bags of prepared dye baths out of my freezer. Another friend admired my soapstone spindle whorl, so now I know what to do with another chunk of soapstone; that will only leave five more spindles to make up and give away….

Late last week, my friend the jeweller told me that I have more than enough work to do cleaning up one brooch and getting it cast before November 12. I have pondered her advice all weekend and decided she is right. I will aim to have one completed brooch, one mould as near to finished as I can make it, and one repaired mould for comparison purposes.

In other news, I am half-way through another netted vegetable bag; I had fun teaching my friend Sarah how to do net on the weekend. I also decided that one of my fleeces was too disgusting to do anything with and threw it in the trash this morning. I still have at least three fleeces to deal with, plus a huge amount of prepared wool and yarn, so I’m reasonably certain I will be able to complete 50 things towards my challenge.

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Not all at once! But I did want to report on a moderately productive weekend.

Last night I continued cleaning up my brooches. The first mold needed adjustments to the bow. I also removed a lot more wax from the second mold. It is about triple the required thickness now. My next step on the first mold is to file everything as smooth as possible before carving the design. I will continue cutting away wax on the second mold. I also want to try mending the broken molds, just to see how that will work.

I spent part of this afternoon drop spinning with my norse soapstone spindle. This is a reproduction and I love the weight of it. I find I can get a nice fine thread with little effort.

This evening I racked my blueberry melomel. It needs to sit for another 10 days. The instructions aren’t clear about whether it is to sit for 10 days and then cleared, or whether I should add a clearing agent now and let it sit for 10 days. I’ll ponder overnight and re-read the instructions tomorrow.

I’m finishing up the sour pickles. After three weeks in brine and then three weeks in vinegar and spices, they are definitely tangy! I have ended up with five quarts, though there wasn’t quite enough of the spiced vinegar that the pickles have been soaking in, so one jar had to be topped up with plain pickling vinegar. Unlike fresh pickles, the trimmed ends of these pickles look a bit discoloured. It doesn’t affect the flavour, but I can see why canning became an attractive alternative (in addition to the reduced likelihood of food poisoning).

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Once again, it is time for my favourite camping event of the year. Somehow, it is always the time when I feel inspired to work like mad on my challenges. This year, I have three things on the go.

First: My Viking Tent

This tent is a conversion of an War of 1812 recreation group’s ridge tent. It is 10′ by 10′ canvas, and needs minimal adjusting. Today I am ripping out the  seam joining the top part of the and back front flaps, and generally figuring out what is needed. Depending on when my son returns with the car, I’ll buy the wood and start cutting out pieces. This is project 28 on my A&S 50 challenge list.

Second: Smoked meats

I have four pounds of skirt steak marinating in herbs, plus a should of lamb that has been soaking in brine for a couple of days. Tomorrow, I will fire up the smoker and smoke them, along with a couple of pounds of salmon. I don’t bother brining the salmon as I think it tastes delicious plain. This is not the fine gravlax salmon; just some inexpensive frozen salmon filets. They work really well in soup or as snacks. Any little bits of jerky that are too small for the smoker will go into my deydrator.

Third: Merovingian Brooches

This is the easiest project to put off as the amount to cut away from the wax is intimidating. However, I made a fair dent in the project this weekend, and promise that I will sit down in front of the TV to work on it tonight or tomorrow. If all else fails, this is the one project I can take with me to Bonfield and work on there.

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I put in some serious work on the brooches today. This is one of the most frustrating projects I have worked on in quite some time. Here’s why:

The purple piece is all that remains of my first attempt to make a wax mold for one of the brooches. When I snapped it just as I got it thin enough to consider it almost done, I was so frustrated I didn’t touch the things for a year or more. Besides, I needed to find more wax.

The broken pieces to the left of the purple bit are what remains after I finally got motivated again. It was coming along nicely until my son dropped it on the floor.

Undeterred (mostly), I started another, but got sidetracked with other projects. Today I worked steadily for a couple of hours and got it as thin as I dare (bottom left). It is now ready for the incised decoration. I was feeling too sleepy to focus on the decoration though, so it has been put away in a safe place. I am finally getting a feel for how much pressure the wax can take.

I also cut out a new wax block and started roughing out the second brooch. I suspect it might be possible to rough out more with a saw, but I am most comfortable using my little knife, even though it will take quite a while to get rid of all the excess wax.

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Last night, my son knocked the all-but-completed wax mould to the floor and it broke in half. Though it theoretically can be repaired, I have been told it is risky so I’ll need to cut out a new piece of wax and start over.

Though I was tempted to abandon the project again (which is what I did the last time I broke a mould), I spent quite a while last night working on the second mould just so I would feel like there was some progress.

I think I am finally getting the hang of slicing away thin bits of wax; it works best if I warm it slightly in my hands. It is tempting to use dental tools for the fine work, but I have set myself the challenge of only using a small knife to carve.

Some time this week, I will try to cut out a piece of wax so I can start making another mould. It will be tricky as my workroom is rapidly filling with stuff from my family room, so that I can get some renovations done to my floor.

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