Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Buggy Beginning

I intended to sign up to teach a brand new class at our Fall Academy, which entailed a bunch of scrambling around trying to figure out how to get the research together and how to compile a new handout from three write ups. 

Oh, and also making a brand new boqtaq from scratch. Yeah. That.

Due to financial difficulties, I decided not to go to Academy after all, and try to teach it for our local schola in the late winter instead.

This was one of those projects that starts relatively normal and then snowballs until you realize that you're raising your own silkworms.
madder plants: these are super sticky

I am thankfully stopping myself before it gets that far, but here's the run down.
First, I decided I ought to make a red silk boqtaq, preferably of bark, because that would take care of one of my major goals, and make a good visual for the class. To be fair, I thought I would get this done by Pennsic, so that I could put it in the Arts and Sciences display. That didn't happen.

I did have some habotai silk left over from a chemise, and so I decided to dye it red, rather than trying to buy red silk.

I had some red acid dye already made up in a bottle from when we tie-dyed over the summer, and dyeing it that way would have only involved throwing the fabric in the sink and squirting the dye over the top, but then I thought, I have a box of natural dye materials from a friend--maybe it has something I could use. I also grow madder, so that was a possibility.

madder reds
I didn't really want the orangey-red of madder, though. I really wanted a good royalty red, since the boqtaq is a hat for royalty of a culture that was heavily involved in the Silk Road, so it makes perfect sense that they would have used expensive royalty-only dye-stuffs.

As it happened, there was an unidentified packet of powder in this box, which I decided might well be cochineal.
I did some research, because my only experience with cochineal was watching someone else use it.
Alum appears to be the most common mordant for cochineal, and luckily I had a few bags worth.

A quick note on cochineal: it is made from little cactus bugs which are captured and dried and crushed. I had a bag of mostly whole bugs, and a second bag of powder (luckily, because the grinding is a pain). It is so expensive because it takes around 90,000 bugs to make 2 pounds of dye. 

 I weighed my fabric (about .5 grams), weighed my cochineal powder, and decided the whole bag would do it. It wasn't a very large bag.
First I washed the silk with synthrapol soap to get any oils or dirt out of it. Then I soaked it in an alum solution for an hour. I was worried because the message on the Alum bag and the info I had gotten from the web didn't really add up, and one said soak as long as possible, while the other said not to soak it too long or the fabric would disintegrate. I let it dry out, and then soaked it again right before I dyed it the next day.

Meanwhile, I boiled the cochineal powder in water, and then let it sit overnight. In the morning, I poured it through several coffee filters to get the powder back out, which was recommended because otherwise the dust will stay in the fabric. That was a bit of an adventure because it took forever to go through the coffee filters, but then I would get impatient and pour too much in, and some would go over the top of the was unwieldy.

Finally the dye was ready, so I boiled it, and soaked the silk in it for an hour.
I suspect the silk was ready from the beginning, but just in case. I didn't want pink fabric, and if I could avoid it, I wasn't going to overdye it with madder, either.

Once the silk was done, I wrung it out and rinsed it in the sink until the water ran slightly less than clear. The leftover dye, being a dye used in foodstuff and therefore safe, was poured into our sump.

And here is the result!

It's actually a shade or two darker than it looks, but I was trying to get the natural light on it.The shadows are pretty close to what it actually looks like.
I'm very happy with it.

Next step, birch bark.

Cloisonné, my darling

Wow. It's been a long time since I wrote on this thing.
Part of it is just being too tired to think most days, and part of it is that I keep thinking "I have to take some pictures", and then the light isn't there when I remember to, and I forget to when it is there.

At Pennsic there was a great class I was eyeing about Cloisonné enamel. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what classes were "if I feel like it and have time", and what classes were "I have to take this, so if childcare gets fobbed off on someone else, deal with it".  
Cloisonné topped the list. I have been drooling over Cloisonné for a VERY long time. Back in college,
I took a metal and jewelry series of classes which were fantastic, but the teacher didn't do enamel or casting herself, so it wasn't something she felt competent to teach.

Before that, I had done some research on different types of ceramic tile work, and the one that really got exciting for me was tube-lining looked just like Cloisonné , only with clay and glaze.

 Also, I love Cloisonné fishies.

Anyway, there was this amazing class, and I said "I have to take this. Whatever else happens this War, I have to take this."

The teacher was wonderful: really knowledgeable, funny, very flexible, and surprisingly able to keep her calm despite having a class that was half again as large as she had stipulated was the limit (and she provided materials to everyone).

She explained the history, the use in period, and then had everyone draw something that would fit on a little 1 1/2" diameter circle with a shank to bend into a loop for hanging.
She gave us little thin pieces of wire and pliers to make the design areas, and then fired them into place on the disk.
Next we all got to fight over the beautiful colors of glass dust, and fire it again. After a second coat of enamel, the end of class was nigh, and we had to take what we got. I was very happy with what I had the chance to make. It was a curly Mongolian cloud over a fall oak leaf, to represent my significant other and myself. The background was navy blue with a depth I really loved.

Since the person I gifted it to has since misplaced it, I will just have to take the class again next year (darn). I was surprised to see how many people were re-taking the class from last year or from a previous class that War, but afterwards I could understand.

Now I just have to invest in a small kiln!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A long break, but success!

For the last two weeks, I've been at Pennsic, a weird and wonderful place.
This year was much less hectic and stressful than last year, which is good, but I had a three year old, which (as much as I adore the child) was difficult.
I had a few goals for myself this year, some of which focused on crossing items off my A&S50 list.
  • I wanted to fence in a tournament (which I did, though I lost badly)
  • I wanted to get up to the archery field in a less-than-rushed way (which I did, three times, and shot all the points I was allowed)
  • I wanted to make orange peel sweet rolls (which I did, and learned a lot about what NOT to do)
On the list, I was going for teaching a class, making glass beads, and bookbinding.
I only managed one out of three, but I achieved a goal I hadn't been going for, so I'm happy with that.

The class I taught was Butter 101 (of previous posting).
Knowing Pennsic, and specifically the popularity of food classes at Pennsic, I limited the handouts to 30 per class and the materials to 24 per class. Luckily, I guessed pretty close to right on that. I think if I were to do it again, I would maybe raise the limit on both by around 5.

First, though, the saga of the butter churn.
I have been wanting a butter churn for a long time, since I first saw them advertised in Lehmans.
Back then, they sold some lined with wax, for home use.
When they discontinued the wax-lined version, I just assumed that the non-lined ones were normal butter churns that might benefit from some wax lining, or just regular use, and that Lehmans was saying "not intended for regular use" as a CYA in case the churns weren't cleaned well and made someone sick. I was wrong.
I bought the largest model (5-8 quart) right before Pax, intending to use it in my class.

Now, a proper butter churn of this variety is basically a tall, tapered barrel with a churn dash and a lid. Therefore, the staves should be held together by metal rings, which can be adjusted down to make the staves tighter, reducing leakage. Also, the staves should absorb water, making them tighter when wet, also reducing leakage.

I should've known when I unpacked it that it was not going to work properly, because the rings were riveted to the wood, and therefore would not move. I haven't experimented with removing the rivets to see if it would work properly at that point, because I doubt it (and it works okay now that it's been modified).

We filled it with water to soak it, and within an hour, it was empty.
Needless to say, I did not use it at Pax except as a visual aid.
Aside from the staves being decorative, the other problem was that the barrel wasn't made well enough to be water-tight (and also is not round, but octagonal), and most of the leaks were around the base.
I had originally decided not to wax-line it, because that was a modern way of avoiding biological contaminants because of the wood absorbing the milk and potentially breeding bacteria. I thought if I just bleached it or scrubbed it really well, it'd be okay (for my use, not for the students to eat the butter or anything).
I decided to backtrack and wax-line it, in hopes that it would be water-tight enough to use in class, anyway.

 So we hauled the thing to Pennsic, and I melted the beeswax and painted it on the entire inside and around the outside base. After that, it held water nicely.

Next is the saga of the cream.
I had been told that ultra-pasteurized cream wouldn't make butter (I knew it wouldn't make cheese, even some plain pasteurized cream has given me difficulties with that), so I was looking for plain pasteurized. I tried the grocery stores first, but apparently Giant Eagle (or at least the ones where we were) doesn't carry regular cream, only ultra-pasteurized, and no quarts at all. Furthermore, the price was ridiculous for the pints, even compared to the price back home, which I already thought was a bit much. Because of the giant churn, I had to get a lot. I was figuring on 6-8 quarts.
Next I tried the camp store, which carries local dairy products. No cream at all. I even asked them specifically whether the dairy they buy from could maybe do a special order. No go. She did say that maybe next year they could request it, but not this year.
Next I did an internet search for local dairies. I thought maybe buying direct would work. Pennsylvania has a lot of dairies, so it shouldn't have been a problem. I found a few, but they specialized in cheese. One of them I drove all the way into town (which probably should've been a clue), half an hour away, to find that the address given was a tiny concrete block building with faded lettering, right next to an industrial plant, with no one home anyway.
Desperate, I finally tried Walmart. I don't like Walmart. I don't like supporting it. However, they did in fact have quarts of cream, for less than half the price of the Giant Eagle's pints, and they had eight of them. I bought six. They were ultra-pasteurized, though (again, the only thing available). Turns out, it works fine for making butter.

When at Pennsic, we live a pretty long distance from anywhere, including the A&S tents where the classes are held. We have a nice Radio Flyer cart donated by my grandmother, so I loaded that up with the churn, the handouts, 6 quarts of cream, butter-hands, a leaf-shaped wooden platter, a roll of paper towels, the plastic lidded cups and toothpicks for student use, and my toddler and toddler-gear.
Squeezing the toddler in between the churn and the cream with some books to keep busy, I started down the hill 15 minutes early.

photo: Gwenllyen the Minstrel
25 minutes later..
Luckily someone in the class knew where I lived and kept reassuring the students that I was coming from way over there and it might take awhile.
There were a few friends in the first class, and that was very nice, especially since the toddler went right over to them and stayed calm and relatively quiet the whole time.
I was terribly nervous and rushed through my spiel, but everyone seemed to have a good time, and we only went through three quarts filling up the containers for the class to use, so I put the other three in the churn.
I was told I ought to add my contact information to the handout next time, and I shall.
Other than that, the only comments I got were good ones.
I did feel awkward enough that I didn't ask anyone to churn with the big churn. By the end of class, the big churn was only maybe 1/3 of the way done, so I put it back in the cart and rolled it over to the Artisan's Row, which, luckily, was doing a day of Dairy, with my friend Lidia the Cheesemaker!

I spent the next hour or so hanging out in the Artisan's Row tent with her, discussing cheese and butter and relative temperatures, and learning how the churn worked (it's not complicated, but it does take a fairly large amount of arm strength near the end). Lidia kindly lent me a bowl for kneading because the leaf-shaped platter was not big enough for the amount of butter I got out of the churn. I gave her some of my buttermilk for demonstration, and carted the child and the churn, the butter and the buttermilk, back to the fighting field. People there helped me cart it back to camp.

Then people in camp teased me about butter for the rest of the week and a half.

Things I learned during my first class:
  1. Butter needs cool temperatures, cheese needs warm. Lidia describes cheese as something you make on a summer's day. Butter is something you'd make in the early morning or late afternoon when it cools off.
  2. Salting butter not only preserves it longer, but drives out more of the buttermilk (which helps in the preservation as well).
  3. You need to scrape down the sides of the churn before finishing the butter, so you don't end up with whipped cream on top.
  4. Dairy maids had short sleeves for a reason.
  5. My churn dash (an x shaped one) needs to rotate between plunges near the end of the butter-making when it gets stiff, so all the butter gets smacked evenly, because the butter isn't moving at that point.
  6. You don't sing "Come, Butter, Come" while churning, to a group of teenagers, for obvious reasons. I didn't do this, but it's good advice.
  7. 3 quarts of cream makes a LOT of butter. More than I can use in a week. Probably more than I can use in a month. I don't know the math exactly, but it was probably around 2- 2.5 lbs.
  8. It really takes a whole roll of paper towels to make butter in a churn, if you're trying to keep your dress clean. I really need to make an apron and some flour-sack towels for this class.
The second class was a little more professional. Kingdom Court was right after my class, so I was driven down to class with the cart in the back of the truck, so I could get back.
My plan was to cart it all back, change, and run back down to attend court. That was a silly idea.

The class was a little more full this time, although we only just went over the limit in attendance. I gave away my copy of the handout, but we only got maybe two more people after that.
It was a lot louder the second time, so I had a much harder time making myself heard.
There were no hecklers (yay!), and again, everyone seemed to have a good time. I gave people the opportunity to try out the big churn if they weren't able to get a kit, and as a result, I got the butter done much faster than the first time (in terms of actual churning probably really took me longer because I had to cart it around in between).

After the class ended, I carted the butter back to the Royal Camp, because I noticed they were already about five minutes from processing. I toyed with the idea of leaving the butter cart there, and running back to get my hat, but I didn't want to leave the butter half done for hours.
In the end, a friend of mine and I walked to court behind the procession, she carrying my buttermilk pitcher, and I carrying the cart, and I finished churning in the very back. I had a horrible fear that I would get called into court, hatless, in a mildly dirty and cream-stained dress with butter on my hands, but luckily that didn't happen.
I did get a laurel (for those non-SCA peoples, a highly respected artisan) asking me questions about the butter-making process, which was novel.
Apparently I also spawned a bunch of dairy-themed jokes in that quadrant of the hall.

All in all, it was a success, and we have quite a lot of butter, some of which I managed to pawn off on people, and I know how the churn works, which makes me happy.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Dreaded Birgitta Cap

Last summer I was looking for a thing to wear on my head to go with my brand new Viking. I googled Norse and Caps, and I kept running into the Birgitta Cap. I fell in love, but then it turned out that the silly thing was not Viking era at all, but 14th century.
Well...I kinda do the 14th century thing a lot, so it was the perfect excuse. I did make a nice Viking cap, too, which is nice, but not terribly exciting.
by C.L. Dahl
I started the Birgitta Cap (which, for those of you who haven't run into it yet, (and I'm surprised you managed to avoid it so far) is the cap of Saint Birgitta, a 14th century Swedish saint) last summer, and planned to work on it during Pennsic. I'd gotten the pieces cut and hemmed and the herringbone stitch done, and started on the embroidered front piece, and then I left it in my embroidery basket with a whole lot of embroidery floss during a rainstorm.
The front piece was permanently stained rusty-red, so I had to start that bit over. I was demoralized, and so it took me until this June to make any more progress on it.
Then, I signed up to teach Butter 101 at our local large summer event, Pax Interruptus, and was thinking about what to wear, and then I thought: the cap! I should finish the cap!
Of course, this left me about two weeks in which to do this, with the large part of the embroidered center, the entire embroidered front, and then the assembly left to go.
Somehow (with much obsession) I managed, and so, here it is.

Here are some lovely sites which give you basically enough information to make it yourself:

This lady did a more complicated form of the embroidery down the middle:

I used lightweight white linen (the same weight I use for medieval undies, ILO20 at, and I got my 100/3 Londonderry white linen thread at

I started by measuring my head and cutting out two quarter-circles for the body of the cap. I used the selvedge for one side and hemmed the other (in retrospect, don't bother, the raw edge will be covered on both sides). I also hemmed the curves (this IS necessary). Then I cut a 3" wide piece long enough to go all the way around my head with a little to spare, and another 1" wide piece for the band.

The original Birgitta cap's front is embroidered with a honeycomb stitch, and everyone who has made a replica has done it exactly the same way. That's lovely, if you want an exact replica, or if you're doing it to see if you can make a copy, but it's highly unlikely to me that every woman who had a similar cap would have had the same embroidery (some probably had none at all). I decided to go with a different motif. At first, I came up with a feathered chain stitch which looks like leaves, but that one got ruined, and when I went back to do it again, I thought, what if someone sees this and thinks it's a Laurel cap? I don't want to be mistaken for a Laurel when I'm not one.
Eventually I decided on a motif of strawberry vines with leaves and strawberries and flowers (because I have the right to wear such things, so why not use it?).
I did a little research on medieval embroidery, but I didn't want to do anything filled or couched, and it appears (I say tentatively) that with some minor exceptions, modern embroidery stitches were used in period. I ended up using back stitch and variations on lazy daisy.
I used a running stitch through the middle as a guideline, because with white fabric I didn't want to write on it.

The two halves of the Birgitta cap are not sewn together in the middle like an arming cap would be, but are held together by a 1/4-1/2" embroidered latticework.
It felt like it took me forever to figure out how to do this from pictures. Some people have just done a herringbone stitch, and left it at that, others I spoke with had used bobbin lace and sewn it in, and others had gone the whole way and did the herringbone stitch and then this amazing german interlacing stitch.
I sort of hung out in the middle, and did the herringbone stitch and then half of the german interlacing stitch, leaving the herringbone in the center.
Because the interlacing happens along a curve, it's impossible to stick it in an embroidery hoop. To tension it, I first basted the two halves of the cap to a third piece of linen, to make sure the spacing was correct, and then I pinned the cap to a curved pillow while I put in the herringbone stitch.
Luckily, I had a Boppy Pillow around, and it has lots of nice curves to it.
Once the herringbone was done, I could take it off the pillow and do the interlacing part without as much tension. I left it basted to the linen until all of the embroidery was done. I kept reading conflicting ideas about whether there needed to be a gap at the bottom center or not, so I ended up doing the embroidery right down to the end, and then undoing about 1 1/2" at the bottom.

The nice thing was that the embroidery was a little raggedy at the ends, and undoing it and binding it off made it look much nicer. I hid the ends in the hem.

The band is about 1/4" wide, and I made it by folding the sides in, and then folding it in half and using overcast stitch to seal the edges inside.

Finally, I ironed everything and started to assemble it. I ran two lines of basting at the bottom edges, and pulled to make pleats. Then the front embroidered piece was pinned starting at the center front (because of the interlacing stitch), and then all the way around until it reached the gap in the back. Then I folded the edges in and sewed it all up. The band is attached to both sides at the bottom corners of the embroidered piece, and when you wear it this criss-crosses over your head once in back, once in front at the top, and then it should fit snuggly around the top back of your head to create the pear shape of the cap. Mine was too short to do this, so I ended up having to make a second one.

I measured my head, then cut and sewed the new band, and then pinned the ends in place on the hat, and tried it on. I ended up having to cut another 3" off the band before attaching it permanently.

I finished it the night before Pax, but I wore it all day Saturday, and it was comfortable, kept my hair out of the way, and worked as a nice bit of padding for my coronet at court. I'm very happy with it!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


One of the things I do for a living (if you can call something I've rarely been paid to do "for a living") is making crafts: jewelry, dolls, and pysanky at the moment.

I learned this at Pennsic around a dozen years ago, and I've made batches of them periodically ever since. I've only taught my class in it twice, but there are others in my area who know more than I do and actually have the heritage and/or persona to match, so I tend to defer to them at Academies.

Here are my class notes, now with pictures and a bibliography!


Pysanky are dyed eggs, made with a wax resist method of dyeing similar to batik. The word Pysanka (singular) is from the Ukrainian “pysaty” meaning, “to write”. Their most famous connection is with Ukraine.
Other cultures which use the same or similar methods of egg-dyeing:


There are many different ways to decorate eggs in these traditions. The most common is boiling the eggs with vegetable dyes such as onion skins to make them a single color. These can be eaten, because the dye is food-safe. In the Ukraine, these are called Krashanky.
Another method is etching or scratching colored eggs—either eggs dyed a single color, or eggs which are naturally not white (brown chicken eggs, blue duck eggs) to reveal the white surface beneath (Drapanki/Travlenky).
In Latvia, they tie leaves and flowers onto the surface of eggs before dyeing to act as a resist (Lieldienu Olas).

Pysanky, and all other decorated eggs except those boiled in vegetable dye are meant as decoration only, and not to be eaten. Traditionally, they are not blown out, but left to dry out slowly. The yolk of the egg will become hard and dry and rattle around inside.
Modernly, many pysanky-artists will blow out their eggs after removing the wax, which makes them less likely to explode in heat.
It has been suggested that grocery-store eggs have thinner shells due to the feed and conditions of the chickens producing them, and therefore are more likely to shatter or explode. Thicker farm eggshells are sturdier and more able to withstand the drying process. If you choose to dry your eggs, make sure you store them where they are out of the heat, and have airflow around them.

Pysanky are an ancient tradition, originally pre-Christian. Slavic cultures worshipped a sun god called Dažbog. In the spring, people would color eggs and use them for protection and blessing. The eggs represented both birds, which were sacred to Dažbog, and rebirth, which was very important to all cultures.
When Christianity came to the Slavic tribes around the end of the tenth century, the egg dyeing went from honoring Dažbog to honoring Christ.
Several legends surround Pysanky. One is that an evil serpent chained to a cliff will destroy the world if there aren’t enough pysanky made each year. The more pysanky, the tighter the chains.
Another is that Mary brought eggs in her apron when she went to plead for Jesus’ life from Pontius Pilate, and when she knelt down, her tears colored them, and they rolled off into the world.

Color Symbolism:

youth, light, happiness
Strength and power
Renewal, fertility, triumph of life over death
Passion, love, blood.
Remembrance, eternity, death, protection from evil.
purity, birth
faith, patience

Traditional Dye Sources:
Yellow: wild apple bark, onion, buckwheat husk, campion, dog’s fennel
Red: madder, black hollyhock, birch tree leaves, moss, sandalwood, cochineal, deerhorn
Dark Green/Violet: elderberries, sunflower seeds
reddish purple: red onion skins, beets
Black: Walnuts, alder bark, sulphate of iron, black maple twigs, periwinkles, sunflower husks

Sources of Vegetable Dyes for Krashanky:
Brown: onion peel
Black: oak or alder bark, walnut shells
Gold: apple bark, marigolds
Purple: mallow petals
Green: rye shoots, periwinkle leaves
Pink: beets

Uses for Pysanky:
Given to the priest, children, your sweetheart, and your family members. Light pysanka are for younger people, dark for older people, predominantly red ones for children
Put on graves of family members: black and white designs
Kept in the house to protect it from fire; put in the mangers of the animals to keep them safe and in milk, put under the beehives for a good harvest, saved to be brought out to the pasture with each grazing animal in the spring, placed in hen’s nests to encourage laying.
Traditionally, the eggs dyed have to be fertilized (the majority of commercially available eggs are not fertilized, because that would end up with a baby chick inside and most modern people are a bit freaked out by that).

Designs and Symbolism:

Forty Triangles (actually 48): 40 days of lent, 40 martyrs, 40 days in the desert, 40 tasks of married couples
Diamonds= knowledge
Tripods= birth, life and death; man, woman and child.
Dots= stars, tears of Mary
Churches, sometimes with a sieve inside to symbolize the church separating good and evil.
Tree of life
Pussy Willows= same as palms on palm Sunday
Garlands= in three circles to represent birth, marriage, and life.
Roosters= manliness, dawn, good fortune
Spiders/spiderwebs= perseverance, patience, art
Butterfly= journey of soul to heaven
Bee= hard work, all good insects
Snake= had (a harmless grey snake), a snake with mystical powers, protects all the people in a house (kind of like a gnome or a tomten…good families all have hads)
Sun=Protection. Closed circle with or without rays, spiral or flower, swastika with arms pointing left.
Pine Needles=health, eternal youth
Crosses=Christ, or the four directions
Wheat=good health, good harvest
The Sun and Stars=life, fortune, growth.
Deer, Horses, and/or Rams=strength, masculinity
Roses/Eight Sided Star=love
 Poppies= beauty.
Triangles=trinities: air, fire and water; father, son, and holy spirit; mother, father, child...
The Saw=also known as Wolves' teeth, protection
Birds=fertility, connection to the spirit world. Never shown flying.
Nets=fishers of men
Ribbons=eternity, water


Luciow, Johanna. Eggs Beautiful: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs. 1975 Minnesota

Perchyshyn, Natalie and Luba, Ann Kmit, and Loretta Luciow. Ukrainian Design Book 1. 1999, Ukrainian Gift Shop, Inc.

Pollak, Jane. Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs With Wax and Dye. 1998, Sterling Publishing, NY.

Voropay, Oleksa. The Folk Customs of Our People. Translated by Luba Petrusha. 1958, Voropai., Luba Petrusha., Ann Morash.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mongolian Haberdashery, Take 1

As you'll have seen, my SCA persona's life is complicated. The poor dear started as an unassuming Welsh merchant's daughter, and ended up traveling the world with her father and then kidnapped by a Mongolian mercenary.
As such, she has had to adapt her fashion sense to match her husband's culture at times, which, for a European, is a reach.

Now, I think most of us SCAdians with significant others of a different culture or time period don't really care, and just go about their business wearing their usual clothes.
However, when we won crown tourney a few years ago, we decided that because of the lack of non-European royalty out there, we would do a Mongolian reign.

At the time we won, I had all of two dels to my name, one of which was inaccurate, neither of which were particularly spiffy, and no hats. Now, even modern Mongols like their hats. So clearly this had to change.

Furthermore, the crowns of our kingdom are on the large side compared to my head, and therefore needed padding. In addition to many spiffy dels, some of which we made and some of which dear friends of ours made for us, I made myself two different padded silk bands based on extant Mongolian beaded headdresses. Both had beadwork along the front, and with the addition of a pair of silver hangers made by a wonderful local metalsmith, I can hang any of my long dangly beadwork from them. I love the versatility, because I can wear different colored beads with different colored outfits, and I don't have to have forty-seven headdresses to match. Examples of these can be found in my post about Mongolian headdresses.

I decided to make a boqtaq, which is the proper hat for a Mongolian noblewoman in the 13th century, and the hat that all Mongolian khatuns (empresses) wore. I wanted this to work with my versatile padded headdresses, as well as the crowns, and to be relatively neutral in color so as to be wearable with pretty much anything I had.

Several people have since asked me about how I made my boqtaq, and I have decided to put together a class on it. However, one of my A&S50 goals is also to make a period version with actual birchbark, so I am splitting this into two posts, one about the hat I currently have, and one about boqtaqs in period and the boqtaq I intend to make.

Like Wearing a Boot on Your Head: The Mongolian Boqtaq

Part 1: The First Attempt

Like many cultures in the middle ages, the Mongols had a lot of spiffy headgear. My first introduction to this was seeing Viscountess  Aramantha the Vicious of Northshield wearing her hair in the traditional wing shapes  adorned with silver and beadwork at a long ago Pennsic.
Sadly, that one is probably a more modern hairstyle, and so out of period (I still think it’s fantastic, though). This led me to investigate the more provably period headgear of the Mongols.

The most commonly seen royal headgear is the Boqtaq hat.
In period, the Boqtaq was made from birch bark, which in the northern regions of Mongolia and in Russia is fairly common. It was shaped from bark and then covered with silk and beaded.

The first time I saw the Boqtaq, it was in an image of Chabi, the wife of Kublai Khan. There are several other pictures, both of Chabi and of other Mongolian noblewomen, and I will admit I have yet to see a boqtaq that isn’t bright red, so I have obviously deviated from tradition with my gold one.

Since the few extant boqtaqs are basically flat remains, and in pretty rough shape, and I am not a real scholar, I based mine entirely off of the pictures I saw, and basically guessed.

Having no birchbark easily accessible to me without a lot of hassle, I investigated the possibilities through haberdashery supply stores.
What I found that made the most sense to me, both structurally and financially, was a fabric woven of straw, called Sinamay. I believe it may have some sizing in it already, but the instructions I saw for using it involved getting it wet, shaping it, drying it, and then spraying it with fixative.
I didn’t end up doing any of that. It is possible that those techniques would work better for some people with more haberdashery experience .

I believe that Chabi’s boqtaq is made in the following components:
The actual hat: tall, wider on top with flaps hanging off the sides, beaded.
The chin wrap: black, possibly made of two pieces? I think the two ribbons hanging down at the sides might be part of this. It clearly is going over her head and around her chin, though, and there is a lot of beadwork on it and hanging off it. I don’t know if the hat is permanently or temporarily attached to this.
The coronet: the red piece of fabric that appears to sit on top of the chin wrap, maybe weighting it down.
Beadwork: appears to anchor the hat to the coronet portion, probably eliminating the problem of the hat angling backwards instead of being straight up. Looking at some of the pictures of other khatuns, I think the piece at the front is a metal piece with pearls inlaid, because where the pearls hang down on either side of her face and on top of her hat, there is no background shown, but on the front triangular piece, there is clearly a gold background. I would guess this has some sort of attachment on the back of it (a loop or a hook or something) to sew or hook it onto the hat portion.

from the Art Institute of Chicago
19th century Mongolian women (through some modern day women) wear elaborate caps made of strips of silk or leather with lots of beads embroidered on, and lots more beads hanging down from them. They appear to be the base for all of the hanging stuff.

This was what I used for my coronet padding hats, and all of my beads attach to them.
I didn’t want the boqtaq to be heavy, but I did want it detachable from my padding hats, so I could use it with any of them. 

I changed the shape a bit at the base to make that more possible (I think I would do this a bit differently in the future).
I made it out of four sides (it looks to me like it has a square profile from above), thinner in the middle than the top or bottom.
The first time I made it I sewed three of the sides together, folded them so that the seams were inside, and then whip stitched the last piece on. The downside to this was that when I wore it, all the raw edges poked my head. I fixed this by putting a piece of fabric on the underside of the hat, but on the next one I bound the edges with grosgrain ribbon instead.
The fabric covering was the same shape, only wider to allow for seams. I used dupioni silk because I had it around, but in period, it probably would have been similar to habotai (so no slubs). Again, I sewed three sides together, turned and pressed, made sure it fit the form, and then added the last piece from the right side.

For both the form and the fabric, I placed the bottom edge against the selvedge so that I didn’t have to hem it. I did overcast stitch the fabric to the form along the bottom and top edges, though.
I then stuffed the hat with quilt batting for extra support.
The last bits were the ties and the top flap.
I cut a square of fabric twice the width of the top of the hat, folded it in two and sewed it together. After turning and finishing the seam, I attached it to the top of the hat so that it overlapped evenly on the sides (those bits will hang down like the flaps on Chabi’s hat). I did not sew the flaps down, which might have been a mistake, seeing the fun it has during high winds. I probably will tack them down in the future.
It appears as though feathers on the top were an option, or possibly a later addition or an indication of rank, but I really liked them, so I put peacock feathers on mine.

Then I sewed the pearls on the front. For future reference, I recommend beading the front panel of fabric BEFORE assembling the hat, because it’s a pain to sew them on after.
Chabi appears to have some beads dangling from the top of her hat. I did put a jump ring up there so that I could add one of my bead danglies, but I’ve only done it once since the hat is so light it kind of overbalanced it. Bark might be stiff enough to work better.
Finally I made a 1” ribbon of the silk, and sewed the middle of it about midway through the bottom of the hat. I use this to add anchor points for pinning the hat on, and because Chabi’s hat has some ribbony things dangling at the sides.

The way I attach it is this:
I put on the padded hat, sit the boqtaq on top, put a pin through the front of the boqtaq, through the top of the padded hat (or my hair, whichever), put another pin through the back and through the hat/hair, and then pin the ribbons on each side. The ribbons are tied together in the back.
I frequently wear this over a veil, because that does seem to be the thing to do, and it looks good and adds more anchor points. The padded hat goes over the veil to lend stability.
The hat is light enough that I can wear it all day with no problems except its tendency to hit things if I lean back.

Future improvements:

  • make the whole set up, to be permanently attached, beads included, therefore allowing for the hat to be shaped properly on the bottom
  • Use red habotai silk instead of gold dupioni.
  • Bead first, then assemble.
  • Either bind the seams with grosgrain ribbon, or make the hat properly out of bark.
  • I’d like to fix the problem where it sits at a 45 degree angle instead of straight up. This might be due to the shape of the base.