Master Morien McBain, hopes to foster a Forestry Guild here in our Kingdom, and is off to a great start, with online classes and lively discussions, plus and outdoor activities already in planning and even scheduled! He sat down with Gazette to answer our inquiries.
Tell us about yourself (name, title, etc.)
Hello! I’m Morien MacBain, and I really like to lurk about in the shrubbery, tie knots, and set things on fire. In addition, I’m a big fan of chopping things with axes, rowing about in boats, backpacking about, and eating plants and animals. I also ride – but do not eat – horses.
Tell us about the new group (name, goals, etc.)
At the moment, our group is called the Æthelmearc Wilderness Skills Study Group (find us on Facebook!), but we hope to soon be the Æthelmearc Royal Foresters when we become a chartered branch of the Known World Forester’s Guild!
How does one get involved?
Ideally, I’d say join our FB group, as well as the Known World Forester’s Guild and East Kingdom Royal Foresters groups. Then check out any and all documents in the “Files” sections that strike your fancy, but especially the New Member’s Guide . As well as Foresters 101.
He’s a lovely fellow, and the Warden of the Guild of Foresters for the East Kingdom. You will be applying for an “affiliate” (out-of-kingdom) membership. Æthelmearc’s program is just getting started, so we’re operating under the aegis of the East’s program until we have our own set up, and getting as many affiliate members as possible operating in Aethelmearc is an important early step.
What are your hopes for how the Forestry community grows and functions here in our Kingdom?
Our application to the Guild for a “Letter Temporary” is in draft, and is making the rounds collecting signatures. We’ll have several members advancing to the rank of Forester by the end of the summer, I’d say. I anticipate we’ll be in a position to apply for Æthelmearc’s own Regional Charter by this time next year. Hopefully whoever is on the thrones at that point will sign our Charter! We will be patrolling and protecting all their Sylvan wilds, after all!
How does the East come into play?
We turned to the East Kingdom Royal Foresters since they have the best-established and most accomplished body of people doing this in the SCA. They’ve been instrumental in helping Atlantia, Meridies, and An Tir get their kingdom programs running, so working with them while we get our ducks in a row was the obvious choice. They have been incredibly supportive, and we look forward to working with them going forward, although of course I hope our progression to a full-fledged chartered kingdom program of our own will come quickly!
What specific kinds of things can people learn about, research, and do?
Good night, it’s astonishing the wealth of skills we can get up to!
-Period fire making
-Travel by boat, horse, and on foot
-Stealth and leave-no-trace camping
-Orienteering and celestial navigation
-Wilderness survival (including cold and wet environments)
-Foraging wild edibles
-Hunting, fishing, and trapping
-Skills challenge courses
-Weapons and gear of outdoor life
-Sign cutting and evasion
-Recreation of pilgrimages
-Preparation of period trail rations
-Identification of trees and herbs, and their many uses.
The list goes on, and people can go insanely hardcore, or just try a few things that interest them. Glorious stuff!
What got you interested in this?
I’ve been running around in the woods since I was six. I was in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, The Order of the Arrow (the Scouting national honor society), and I was in the Army, where I got to mess around in the woods in various places, so I’m a big fan! I’m also into the modern bushcraft movement, which involves watching lots of old-time wilderness skills being brought to modern people to keep them alive (both the skills and the people, I suppose).
What are your favorite pieces of forestry/wilderness advice for the re-enactor?
“Two is one; one is none,” meaning you should always have a backup for each crucial piece of gear you need in the woods (multiple blades, ways of starting a fire, methods to purify water, ways to signal for help, etc.). Also, hydrate like a crazy person when you’re thirsty, hungry, hot, cold, tired, irritable, being chased by wolves, whatever! DRINK WATER! Also, purify your water, even if the stream looks fresh. Waterborne illnesses like giardia are no joke! Essentially, read everything you kind find by Dave Canterbury and especially Mors Kochanski, that guy was a beast!
What’s the essential gear? Or how can I get started?
Essentially, you need some green garb, good boots, and a decent knife (preferably single-edged), and a desire to learn about the natural world and all the adventures, lessons, treasures, and mysteries it has for us!
Get online and find other Foresters near you, and start getting out in the woods and waters together (I love getting out there solo, but even I admit that a partner makes stuff safer and usually more fun.)
Here’s a clip on the topic by Llywd Forester, the founder of the Guild on the topic of gear and getting started. Good stuff!
Any parting thoughts?
I’d like to add that forestry has opened up a sweet new dimension in my Scadian life, and that wealth of skills that one can study and practice can be a real ornament to a life and balm and oil to a weary heart! There’s been a rich air of mystery and romance around people with the skills to live and thrive in the wilderness for centuries, and recapturing, practicing, and transmitting those skills to new generations connects us with a profoundly human part of ourselves which many of us have almost forgotten was there!
We’re not the Sylvan Kingdom for nothing. Æthelmearc is covered by woods, and we have deep wells of wilderness skills in our area. We have some amazing people coming together to train and share skills. Come and join us!
Author Honorable Lady Beatrice de Winter talks to the Gazette about her Compleat Anachronist #191: Transforming the Living and the Dead: Evolving Thoughts of the Afterlife:
Tell us about you. Name, title, persona, etc.
THL Beatrice de Winter – my persona is a medieval coroner (which, as well as determining cause of death, was a tax collector). I have a passion for educating the populace about death and the dead to provide context for many of the artifacts of the period being recreated by artisans of the Known World.
Death is such a unique subject to study, especially in the SCA. What got you interested?
I have been interested in the topics of death and death culture since childhood. My bus stop was next to a cemetery, which I think may have kickstarted my thoughts about it. I’ve always thought it was odd that people didn’t think of death as a part of life. Looking back, there have been a number of death-related topics I’ve gravitated towards: the Titanic, the Civil War, Harry Houdini and his fight against spiritualism, just to name a few. My first masters thesis is on fatal fire investigation. It’s not too surprising, then, that I’d gravitate towards the topic in the SCA as well.
At my first Pennsic (2005), I took a class on death practices that I just loved and never forgot. That was “Death Becomes Us,” taught by Elianora Mathewes. Another early influence was Baron Hamish MacLeod, who shared my love for the unusual. He was well known for his classes on hangmen and headsmen, which naturally also lead to my first class on capital punishment: “Hangmen, Headsmen, and Other Fun Ways to Die”. I’ll add that my Laurel, Master Cerian Cantwr of the Mid, was extremely supportive of my change in focus from bardic to death. 🙂
What’s your favorite tidbit that you learned in your research?
That’s hard! I think my favorite tidbit has to do with the idea that during the Middle Ages, bodily resurrection was reassured even if one’s body was eaten by a fish or cannibals, because apparently human beings are “non-natural” food. Thus, they cannot be absorbed by another human being.
It’s complicated, but essentially for resurrection, both the body and the soul had to be available. The guy who wrote the initial work on bodily resurrection was very concerned with making sure there were no inconsistencies in his theory. So, that’s how he explains it.
It makes me chuckle.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned?
I think the most surprising thing I learned is that while indulgences really are all about the money in some ways, it wasn’t the church who typically reaped the core of those benefits, but a third party such as a hospital or other charity.
Is there anything in your research that we can apply in the SCA (persona, rituals, etc.?)
I think basically most things we do in the SCA can benefit from the context in which it would have happened and there’s no exception here. So, if you’re a scribe, you should know what something like a Book of Hours was actually used for and why it was so important – beyond the (often) stunning visuals. It wasn’t just used for prayers like how we’d think of in a contemporary Church. It was used specifically to mimic the monastic lifestyle at home, to a certain degree, in an attempt to limit the soul’s time in Purgatory. It was a BIG deal.
No matter what your persona is, prior to the reformation, what I discuss would have impacted both how they lived and how they died. (Caveat: assuming your persona is during the typical SCA time period in Western Europe. There are some exceptions, but generally speaking it’s pretty far reaching.)
Death is one of the esoteric areas of research, which can be hard to display/talk about in traditional SCA A&S formats. Do you have any advice for those interested in researching esoterica?
I would encourage people to research esoterica, frankly. We need more of it out there to help provide additional context and details about what it was like to live during that time. We know a ton about clothing, armor, and art works, which is fantastic! But what about, you know, everything else?
I think the key is just to find something that intrigues you, regardless of what that might be, and start digging. Let other folks know what you’re researching so that if they come across something related, they can pass it along.
You have to think outside the box in terms of displays or other presentations of materials. I created science fair type boards to show off how death culture was connected to many things in the SCA. Mistress Luceta created these amazing little models out of skeletons and clay representing apotropaic (deviant) burials.
It seems like the way we do A&S competitions in the SCA doesn’t lend itself well to the type of research/art you and others do. Any thoughts or suggestions on that front?
There’s no way to easily “compete” with non-traditional ideas. Research papers are of course a possibility, given the right circumstances, although often they’re not a good option. However, I encourage displays! That’s what I did several times: non-competitive opportunities to display my stuff.
I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to focus on the context for “things” rather than just on the “things” themselves. One suggestion for more of a context competition (that I haven’t seen in practice) would be perhaps giving a presentation on an esoteric non/physical object topic as a way to “compete” rather than offering up a “thing” and it could be judged on how well you impart your knowledge to the audience, how deeply you understand the material, handle questions, etc. We always say that a huge part of A&S is teaching and giving back, so it seems like that might be a more fair way to judge that kind of thing.
I’m actually taking this idea to this summer’s Queen Prize Tourney, one of our Kingdom’s premiere A&S showcases. I’ll be entering by presenting a topic essentially as a proposal for how we might be able to incorporate this sort of thing into our competitive structures.
The Compleat Anachronist is such a fantastic resource for people across the known world. How did you become interested in writing one?
I became interested in writing a CA when I wrote an article about Richard III and his two interments for Tournaments Illuminated, though I’d had several people suggest it to me over time. The TI editor encouraged me to take my ideas further.
What would someone have to do to submit to the Compleat Anachronist?
If you don’t have a subscription to the Compleat Anachronist, you can buy THL Beatrice’s issue, “Transforming the Living and the Dead: Evolving Thoughts of the Afterlife,” from the SCA Marketplace for $7.50 here (search the title or 191).
Good Morning Knowne World! The University of Atlantia will be hosting the Knowne World Sciences Symposium at our virtual session on June 12, 2021.
Current KWSS tracks include: Medicine & Apothecary, Alchemy, Physics & Engineering, Astronomy, The History of Science, and Biology & Botany.
The University will be accepting 150 classes into our June session catalog. These classes are provisioned on a first come/first served basis, with a priority given this session to science classes in support of the Knowne World Sciences Symposium. Classes exceeding the 150 limit will be waitlisted pending any cancellations that may create an open class slot. Should your class be waitlisted, the Dean of Academics Lady Esa will be in touch.
An ode in honor of the SCA College of Arms, for their labors on the Virtual Herald’s Point endeavor of AS LV/
by Lord Gavin Kent (mka Greg Tremblay), February 2021, for presentation as candidate for the office of Sylvan Bard of Æthelmearc. Note: Lord Gavin was chosen as King’s Bardic Champion on March 20, A.S. LV. A video of his performance may be viewed here.
O there were days, some years ago
When folk did rightly tremble
To brave the Laurel, Pelican
And Wreath when they’d assemble
“AH NO” they’d cry with wrung-ed hands
“They’ll tell you you can’t have that”
“The Heralds are a prickly lot,
“Your dreams are sure to fall flat!”
Perhaps, alas, there were betimes
Decisions not so noble
In teens and twenties there was snark
Positions quite immobile
But nowadays my friends, take heed
Accept the hand they proffer
Pray, strike “Rejected” from your lips
You really are no bother!
In baronies and shires vast
They work in good will, earnest.
Guides in lands quite labyrinthine
That is their sacred purpose
Then came nigh the year of plague
Events to the wayside fell
Feast halls silent, no battle raged
Heralds were idle as well.
And so, it came in Fifty Five
As Pennsic was in question
That in the space Ethereal
There was a bold suggestion:
“Let us create a Herald’s point”
They said, their eyes a-shining
“Virtual! For, without wars
There are desires pining”
They set to work and called upon
Heralds wide and far
From Æthelmearc to Western Lands
All the kingdoms that are
A grand estate they built inside
These our ethereal lands
The college lent their time and skills
The work of many hands
A grand pavilion, digital
Did welcome all who sought
For names, devices, badges too
They gathered at that spot
As partners to a dance they paired
With heralds eager and keen
To take up inspiration
And see what was to be seen
Clerks there were who lent their toil
To craft submissions, ready
For coin to transfer swift and true
The flow of packets steady
And for the artists of renown,
What words could ‘ere be spoken?
A thousand each for labors good
Would merely be a token
Tomes pored over, entries found
For names and deeds and places
So all could speak the praise of kin
And we would know their faces
While many hands did lend their toil
To bring forth such a feat
Lacking names of the tireless few
No ode could be called complete
Non Scripta, Istvan brought to life
Ethereal manor’s stones
Crampette Lillia led the Van
That none should toil alone
Marie de Blois she lent her gaze
To the order of the day
Thorkel son of Pal assured
That all who came could pay
Owen Tegg of the Artistry
Siren Julianna too
Iago and Ollivier
And Joscelin labored true.
Four score and a few did toil
Through the day and through the night
Until the fortnight and a half
Was done, deeds brought to light
Although that great phantasmic field
Lies quiet in its slumber
The submissions who crossed its glades
Were thrice two hundred numbered
Eighteen score of our populace
Did realize their dreams
For names and arms to hold and have
By which to know our esteem
SO, tho that labor is ended
Know you my friends one and all
The College of Arms stands ready
To rise and answer our call
AND SO, lift up your voices high
Heralds are not as you thought
For their knowledge, skill and artistry
Let us cry them… VIVAT!
Notes on the Composition:
The SCA College of heralds brought about an astonishing feat in 2021, holding a never-before-attempted, wholly online version of a War Herald’s Point. In her preface to the January 2021 Letter of Acceptance and Returns, Laurel Soverign of Arms Emma Featherstan had this to say, which provided the entirety of the factual content of this ode:
“As I write this, we are finalizing the last consulations(sic) from the Virtual Heralds Point. Signups ran for three weeks, and by the end we’re looking at 616 items from 359 different individuals, from all twenty kingdoms! This is an amazing result, far better than we’d hoped for…—
…In total, I believe we had something over eighty heralds working in various capacities. I cannot express how floored I am by the amount of work done in a relatively short amount of time, and wish to commend each and every one of you for truly participating in this thing we call the Society College of Arms. Well done!“
We are proud to announce that the Known World Sciences Symposium which had been previously planned for June 25 to 27, 2021 has now been merged with the University of Atlantia Symposium on June 12, 2021, which will be held as an online event.
Early medieval / Viking age jeans
Claim: A (Aprilis prima)
Material: 2/2 cotton twill with indigo dye (mouth-crotched by Uzbek nuns under water), buttons made of iron, rivets made of bronze
I know, I know … most of you will first of all wonder if I’m completely mad and crazy about this reconstruction. So let me first put a few theoretical considerations together:
1) Trousers itself are well documented by finds. Thorsberg, Damendorf, Skjoldehamn. Sufficient variations of the pattern can already be found here, so that today’s jeans cut seems quite possible as a creative excess.
2) Cotton as a basic material was known and available. In the Byzantine Varangian Guard (which consisted mostly of Scandinavian Vikings), part of the armor (the Bambakion) was made of cotton. So one can assume that returnees brought this back home with them as knowledge or as raw material.
3) Diagonal twill as the binding of the material was well-known and has been retained to this day.
4) Indigo as a dye has been used extensively in the eastern regions. So it seems completely conclusive that resourceful dyers also happily combined cotton and indigo. Even if this should not have been the case, a wonderfully stonewashed look can be achieved with the adequately documented and popular woad, which puts the fashionable understanding of the early medieval people in a completely new light.
5) Even the pockets of the jeans can theoretically be derived well. Just think of fragment H55 A from the harbour of Haithabu. The transfer of a tunic pocket to a pair of trousers can justifiably be seen as a masterpiece of tailoring at the time, and it should have been way ahead of its time.
6) Dozens of references can be found in Birka alone for buttons. Even if most of the specimens were cast from bronze, in view of the craftsmanship at the time, some can also be made of other metals. As a reference for the use of buttons on trousers, I would like to refer to the underpants find from Moscevaja Balka, which also already has a button for fastening.
7) Stabilizing the seam connections by means of rivets seems quite modern. However, this principle of the rivet with a counter washer on the back can already be observed in the knife sheaths of that time. It seems quite logical – especially in view of the extensive and long-term use of textiles at the time – that this process was also applied to trousers.
8) Jeans are even represented several times in contemporary iconographic representations. In various psalteries, men can be seen in tight-fitting blue legwear, which can be interpreted as nothing more than skinny jeans. Here, too, the fashion of the time shows clear parallels to modern times, and underlines the highly developed clothing style of the Northmen, often wrongly denigrated as ‘uncouth barbarians’ .
That’s the theory.
Now let’s get to the facts.
1) Old Norse knows the term ‘(Blá) önd súrsæt’, the ‘(blue) cotton trousers’.
2) In the Gallastríðið saga it says: “Gallíu er skipt í þrjá hluta, annar þeirra er byggður af Belgum, hinn af Aquitans og sá þriðji af þeim sem kallaðir eru Keltar á sínu tungumáli, á okkaru.”
In other words: “And before he left the house, Gollum the Magnificent put on the cotton trousers of the hard-working craftsmen so that he would be considered one of them in the future.”
3) In the ‘MS Cotton de Nimes’ (dated to the middle of the 10th century) there is a depiction of a man in blue trousers who is being carried by two others. Under his tunic, which has slipped up, you can see a patch pocket on the back of the exact shape and size that is used in today’s five-pocket jeans. (Image 1)
4) During the archaeological excavations in the port area of Birka, among other things, textile fragment W34 / L32 was found. A 2/2 cotton twill with remnants of an indigo dye. Here you can still see a double seam, which is reinforced by a bronze rivet. Right next to it is a round hole with neat edges that a second rivet would fit into. (Image 2)
5) In the hoard of Buttenheim there is an inconspicuous but very interesting pendant among numerous hacked silver. A so-called Anlaf-Guthfrithsson-Penny, a coin from the 10th century, which was first converted into a button with a long shaft (like in modern jeans) and later served as a pendant with a riveted eyelet. (Image 3)
6) One last hint is the work of the Swedish archaeologist Löb Strauss, which he published under the title “Effekten av jordnötssmör på jordrotationen”. Here he describes an almost perfectly preserved trouser find with all the characteristics of today’s jeans, which was found in 1834 in the bog near Riga by Jākobs Jufess and dated to the late Iron Age. (Image 4)
Based on all of these individual documents, the jeans I reconstructed are by no means a new and unknown item of clothing. Instead, the facts automatically condense into a compelling causality.
Because with all due respect to our ancestors – they weren’t stupid back then
I would like to close with a quote from my great Idol Harald Blauzahn: “Do not believe anything you find on the Internet, unless you have faked it yourself.”
/ Satire Off, and have a nice first April
Charles Bruns (via Viking Clothing on the Booke of Faces)
Fig. 1: Runestone, with Lady Maedbh ni Clerigh for scale (photo by Robert of Ferness).
After reading about runestones found in Norway recently, I realized that individual runes can be transcribed and simplified into smaller units of information. As you can see in the examples in Fig. 1, runes consist of long straight lines, long curved lines, short angled lines, and dots.
Once the individual letters are broken down into these elements, they can be perceived as paaaah, paaah, pah, and pa, respectively: in other words, the length of each rune segment, can be transformed into a rhythmic series of sounds in order to convey information.
Note that I am not suggesting that runes were not used as letters and not used as part of an alphabet, but that the shapes of the runes were formed so that they could also be understood in other contexts.
After thinking on this insight for some time, it seems clear that the Vikings – at least the infamous Norsemen – might have used these shortened rune letter-segments as a way to communicate between ships while on the open ocean.
Much like putting an ear to the ground or railroad track in order to sense vibrations of horses or trains, it might have been the case that sailors could put an ear to the hull of their ship in order to hear sounds transmitted via the water from another vessel.
Fig. 2: The preserved substantial hull of a Viking Age ship (photo by Robert of Ferness).
It is well known that water carries sound better than air, and more than four times faster, so it should be feasible that a sailor using a heavy metal or wood implement, such as an oar or sword pommel, could tap out a message on the hull of one ship and have it perceived on all nearby ships. It would be a perfect method for organizing a raid or an open-water attack, or even just to keep ships organized as they traveled together.
The length of each tap (paaaah, paaah, pah, and pa) would specify the part of the rune being sent and the receiver would compose the message in his head as it arrived, putting together the lengths of the taps to form the final runes and then, ultimately, the entire message.
Anyone who has enjoyed a ride in a replica Viking ship knows that there is plenty of noise above the water: wind blowing, oars splashing, people talking or singing, seabirds crying, etc. All of those interferences would be bypassed via percussive message transmission using a code tapped out on the hull of a ship.
It is my intent to replicate this possible communications platform as soon as feasible once COVID restrictions are lifted. After I have worked out enough proper sequences for carrying messages, I intend to publish more about this method, to be called Norse Code.
The Known World Colegio de Iberia sponsored by the West Kingdom will be held over the first weekend of June 2021.
This is a weekend of virtual classes on the lives and times of the people who dwelt in the lands which we now call Spain and Portugal. The symposium covers the period from the Muslim Umayyad Conquest, and includes the great Muslim city-states and the four Christian kingdoms (Kingdom of Castile y Leon, Kingdom of Aragon, Kingdom of Navarre and Kingdom of Portugal), ending with death of the Habsburg king Philip II. We also explore some of the worlds who experienced colonisation by these kingdoms.
The Zoom room details and password will be made available closer to the date and advertised on the Facebook event and the website. We will be having a range of breakout rooms depending on the number class tracks required.
There are a range of different roles that we will need to make this event as easy and as fun as possible to run. If you would like to assist us in anyway please fill in this form: https://forms.gle/fHSy4DA7SkB37Y837
Work in Progress Report: a preview of my virtual IceDragon entry. Interested in entering yourself? Visit the IceDragon website for more information or contact the Pent coordinator at (email@example.com).
As all I did last summer was work the weekends and entertain the kid during the week, I had to come up with ways to keep us all entertained. We gardened (sooo many tomatoes and marigolds…), we fermented (home-made soda rocks!), we played with clay (baked crusty bread, fired mugs to drink our soda…). Normally, we’d be kept busy going to events. But not so in the Year of the Plague. Instead, I decided to focus on something I never had, or made, time for that would entertain us all, and introduced mounted equestrian games. Whacking dummy heads with foam swords and catching rings with a converted pool-table lance sure did interest the kid, and had the ponies thinking too. At the end of summer we were all adapting to virtual get-togethers, and both my kid and I participated in a video-submission-only Equestrian Games challenge.
Which made me realize, we humans had great outfits, but our ponies were sorely lacking in appropriate attire. My persona is Viking, a time when heraldry and colorful horse barding were not yet quite a thing (like, at all). I could somewhat envision a style of bridle I could make for him to give him a more historic look, but making a saddle? For the sake of both of us I decided not to meddle with that (saddles do have to fit, hence the mundane existence of the job of saddle fitter). Then my interest in felt and my Icelandic Horse’s heritage joined. Low and behold, the old Icelanders had a padded-seat riding contraption with stirrups which was completely made from felt – no saddle fitting required. And even better, for ‘carpet’-like felted sheets like this pad the wool did not even need to be roving!
I’ve always been fascinated with felting fabric, like the thick sheet felt used in shoes. A good friend of mine makes beautiful leather turn shoes and has poked me a few times already to make some sheet felt to use as insoles. But I did not feel confident in being able to do a good job. And I especially could not quite wrap my head around the amount of roving needed.
Finding enough affordable roving proved challenging. Then I realized I did not have to use roving, as long as the wool was clean and fluffy it worked fine. Luckily, I had watched fellow Dominionite Eadgytha clean wool many times over the years, and last summer I attempted my first suinting experiments. And guided by a several videos showcasing Mongolian felting techniques used to make felt carpets and felt yurt walls, my son and I set out to experiment with the different suggestions. I will share with you the highlights of what worked, what did not, and what I intend to try differently next time.
What did we do:
Collecting the wool. With a project like this in mind I had collected not-so-good quality fleeces over a couple of years. I started with about 5 fleeces of various colors, making one large tub of variegated fluffed wool, but worried this would not be enough for this specific project. Luckily, Eadgytha has a Stash and she gave me two more large garbage bags of fleeces to play with!
Processing the wool. The Mongolian videos instructed to use fluffed wool for the outsides, with the nicest first to create the face of the fabric. The raw fleece is fluffed by laying it out on a tarp and beating it with sticks. This opens the fibers as well as helping it release dirt and hay etc. It was surprising how effective this beating method is, and how much dirt was beaten out of the wool! We were also picking up bits of hay and fluffs of wool for days afterwards.
Construction. Traditionally, Mongolian felt is made on top of an already made ‘mother’ felt, which is then rolled up as a whole. Since I was doing this indoors, I chose to use plastic shower curtains. The fluffed wool was grabbed by the handful in one hand, pushed in place and pulled out of the handful to create a somewhat scale-like overlapping collection of wool tufts. The center of the felt ‘sandwich’ could be clean but untreated raw wool, fluffed, topped with another layer of fluffed wool. The better the tufts are interlaced top to bottom, the better the layers of wool will be felted together. The wool would be wetted with hot water while the different layers were constructed, enough to make it damp but not so much it was dropping wet.
Felt shrinks. I was going for a felted pad of about 30 inches wide by 80 inches long and eyeballed a starting dimension of 40 inches by 115 inches, as the Mongolian videos seemed to suggest more shrinkage lengthwise than in width. This seems to be plausible for their method, but not when using a machine, we learned later.
Agitating the wool. Historically, the baby sheet felt is tightly rolled up with its mother felt around a large wooden post. The outside is protected with hides, duck cloth or tarp, and tightly wound with rope. Two collars are slid around the wooden beam ends, attached to another long rope, and hitched to horses or camels to be dragged around over the grasslands for about two hours, often at high speed!
This obviously was not going to happen with us, as there was still a foot of snow on the ground, and a lack of camels, so we used our own feet. While watching TV, the kid and I would move the felt-roll back and forth and at one point figured out we could use the binding rope to pull it back after rolling it away. We kicked it, kneaded it, sat on it, walked all over it, anything to simulate rolling over the plains at speed while being dragged by galloping ponies. Although this might still happen in the future 🙂
Repack, and agitate. Each time the wrapping loosened, we’d repack. Followed by more rolling, lots of YouTube, another re-pack, and even more rolling. We rolled it on and off for about 3-4 hours over I think 4 days: my legs felt as if we’d hiked a mountain! We added hot soapy water as needed: the soap is not essential, but the alkaline environment will speed up the felting process. As we worked in our living room, in front of the stove, the felt was nice and toasty much of the time, and the wet wool felted as well as suinted.
Agitation and rinsing. Because the wool had suinted, indicated by earthy beige liquid leaking out, it could be rinsed indoors without dumping too much oil into our septic. In the process of suinting, minerals from sheep sweat and the oily lanolin in the wool dissolve in the hot water and bacterially ferment to make a crude soap, which then suspends remainder oils and dirt without leaving an oily residue. At this point I moved the felt roll into our bathtub, removed the shower curtains, sprayed it with hot water and with my bare feet walked all over it. When flattened sufficiently, I’d reposition the roll. When the roll became warm through and through, I changed the water to cold, trampled it, etcetera. I did this until the rinse water was mostly clear (and my feet very, very clean).
Drying. I squished as much liquid out as I could and move it in front of the hot stove. Evaporation while lying flat was not going very fast, even in front of the stove, so I draped the felt over a chair for gravity to offer a helping hand. At the end of the day, the felt was mostly damp, not wet.
And then I second-guessed myself… I felt (pun intended) the sheet felt (left) could use a bit more tightening after trimming off the thinned edges, so I ran it through the dryer on hot (see right). While this is generally very effective, and part of my dryer balls felting process, in this case it was too much. I need to remember, when using the dryer on a new project, to check every 10 minutes or so to make sure the effect is what is wanted. While before, the sheet felt mostly shrank in length and not so much in width (as expected from scrutinizing the Mongolian videos), in the dryer the felt shrank mostly in width, and quite significantly too. It made an amazing fuzzy, springy pillow-type felt which while awesome to sit on, but as a saddle I worried might be a bit tight for my knees.
Turning the felt into a felt-saddle I sewed leather patches to the felt, two at each corner, so it can be folded and securely tied into the pad-saddle shape (see the illustrations in the beginning: the sheet is folded twice, unlike a modern Western saddle pad). Unlike most saddles, the pad-saddle girth is a one-piece which wraps around the ponies belly like a belt and includes attachments for stirrups.
Thoughts? I’ve ridden on the felt-saddle a handful of times by now and found it to feel quite different from my modern felted pad. The barepack pad rides close-contact and I should not need stirrups to balance. The quite comfortable but thicker felt-saddle is not close-contact at all and actually feels a bit perilous to balance on: here, stirrups are not at all a luxury!
What is next? I commissioned the rectangular ring and the stirrups from fellow Dominionite John Michael Thorpe to recreate my recreation of the combination girth & stirrup “belt.” For now, I’ve used a modern girth to try out the seat of this pillow-y pad-saddle. And I have to admit, it sure feels comfortable!
Simon and Elska á Fjárfelli, of the Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
Sources for the felted pad-saddle:
Reiðtygi á Íslandi í aldaraðir (2002) by Þórður Tómasson í Skógum, [Reykjavík] Mál og Mynd.