Lady Luceta Di Cosimo reported the following: On June 4th, the Barony Marche of the Debatable Lands conducted another medieval skills demo at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. This time the museum asked the members of the Barony to do a demo on medieval leatherworking. So, once again we were invited to the MAKESHOP which is a partnership between the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE). It is a space dedicated to making, reusing and designing things, using everyday materials and real tools. It has regular programs and special guests. Readers may recall that the Barony did a weaving workshop there a few months ago.
THL Sumayya al-Ghaziyyaa, head of the BMDL Leatherworking Guild, graciously agreed to share her skills and knowledge of period leatherworking with the museum visitors. She was assisted by Luceta di Cosimo and Medea da Venexia. Our goal was to convey to the visitors just how widely leather was used in period. Kids know that nowadays leather is used for shoes, clothing, and accessories, but most are not aware that its uses in period were much broader. Therefore, we had a display of period leather items (reproductions, of course). In addition to shoes, boots and belts, we had things like books, armor, and paintings on parchment. The kids were so surprised to see that you can have armor made out of leather. Some were not sure leather could ever work as armor. So we set up an ornate cuir bouilli chestplate on the back of a chair, and invited the kids and their grownups to hit it with mallets, so they could see how just tough it was. It proved to be their favorite display item. (Cuir bouilli is the process of hardening leather through the application of heat and/or wax.)
In addition to the display, THL Sumayya put together a make and take activity. In period, tooled leather was primarily carved, but to make sure even the littlest visitors could safely participate, we had children and their adults make stamped leather key fobs, even though stamped leather was less common in period. We had a number of stamps available, and the Museum loaned their own sets of leather punches. The kids came up with many really neat designs, and many key fobs were made as father’s day gifts. We had dozens and dozens of people come through the MAKESHOP that day, and even after the demo was officially over, we still had people working on their key fobs. Overall we probably had about 150 people visit the MAKESHOP that day.
It was a pleasure to be back at the WORKSHOP. The Children’s Museum is a wonderful resource for local families. It promotes a “play with real stuff” philosophy, which is dedicated to inspire curiosity and creativity in kids and allows them to learn through play. We are very proud to be a part of this experience. The Society is full of talented and skilled people, who do amazing and rare and beautiful things, and we are glad to share these skills and knowledge with our Museum neighbors.