I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

Archive for October, 2022


How important were paint brushes during the period? We are familiar with the pens, but pictures of paint brushes are more rare. With the help of the guidance of Gary Golding, I have been busy this last year to accumulate–generally making–scribe tools: pumice stone, prickers, burnishers, straight edges and clothlets, as well as pens and scrapers. When they were all finished, there was no way to delay even more. No matter how much the process intimidated me, it was time to make a brush.

I began by reading DIY articles on making brushes. I cannot say that the brushes were entirely accurate, but I was able to take what seemed to work. And I did several, so I was able to take several different approaches. Some of the results I was not satisfied with, but they were not entirely dismaying!

Brushes were made from boar bristles or from squirrel fur. I was able to secure both, but the squirrel fur was intimidated me too much, so I still have a whole squirrel’s tale. I may use it someday, but I did find the boar bristles very easy—if frustrating at times—to work with.

I took the boar bristles and cut them to the desired sizes. They were cut a little longer than what the final result would be simply to be able to cut them down. I would take about twelve bristles, bend them double and bind them at the bend with hemp thread. Then, there were bent double. The bristles were obstinate, and this was not as easy as it sounds!

The handle part was a bit more iffy. I tried a wooden handle, and it was adequate but not satisfying. For the most part, handles were made of the quills—just like the quills used in making the quills—and vulture feathers were recommended. And then I discovered that vulture feathers were expensive! I bought one and used it. But frankly, I did not find that it was any more useful than the goose quills that were much less expensive. So most of the brushes I made were made from goose feathers.

The goose and the vulture feathers were treated in the same way. The feathery parts were stripped, which is actually a very simple thing to do. Pinch the barbs of the feather at the base of the shaft and just pull. It will usually zip off easily. Both sides must be stripped off. Then the open end must be reamed so that it is entirely empty. Some people say it must be soaked, but I found that a bit of overkill.

I took the bristle bundles and stuck them into the empty end. Ideally, you want to do so with about six benches, but the size of the quill opening determines how many are used for a brush. After a while, I discovered that a drop of glue in the empty space helped keep the bristles under control.

Then taking hemp thread, I would wrap the bristles. There is actually no way to describe what needs to be done to make it secure. You just see and feel it. I discovered that coating the thread in glue helped. Cheating? Maybe, but glue is my friend! It eliminated the need for knotting or otherwise securing the cord. I then put another coat of glue over the bound bristles just to make it more secure.

I was then able to trim the bristles to the desired size. I must admit that the bristles sometimes would not work together, so I needed to keep them together with little glue. The result was pleasing visually, and I used one a little but did not use any a lot. But for display, it was veery satisfying!


The clothlet was a piece of cloth impregnated with pigment (generally a vegetable dye), used to hold vegetable pigments in a dry format. A portion of such cloth, when soaked with a little gum arabic, releases its colors into the medium and produces an artist’s pigment. Clothlets were convenient way of carrying or shipping vegetal pigments, and they were especially popular from the fourteenth century on, with the growth of the textile trade, though they seemed to have existed in earlier times.

An early appearance of the clothlet was in the tenth-century Mappæ Clavicula. The earliest copy of the Mappae was a manuscript in the Benedictine monastery of Reichenau, dated to 821-822. The manuscript is no longer in existence. But later copies speak about a variety of colors derived from organic sources.

Production of clothlets is simple but time consuming. Basically, a pot of vegetable color is made by boiling the vegetable source of the dye in water. It must not be too watery. I made several batches, include woad, madder and weld. Several different colors could be made from a solution depending on the density of the solution. For example, these organic colors could produce blue, red, green and yellow. Experiment with the solutions

Gary Golding, who guided me in the production of clothlets, notes that “A clean linen cloth is dipped in pigment and allowed to air dry, then dipped and dried again and again until it’s impregnated with pigment.” The cloth is soaked in the solution and brought out to dry. I hung them from rods and allowed them to dry. I did this about twelve times for each piece. I used squares of white linen. These would be stored until needed, and a piece would be cut off. It could be soaked in glair or gum. In the morning, you should have a wash that is ready to use. Gary adds that “Organic pigments have poor coverage compared to mineral ones. Such pigments tended to have poor coverage and lightfastness and so were typically used as highlights or washes on other colors. This would then be used to highlight or wash the stronger mineral pigments…” These washes were often used to enhance other colors in a book illumination, since they created a rich, glowing, and transparent effect.

In period, clothlets were often stored in books. I have found that blank pages are recommended, since colors rub off onto the paper!


How well do you know the Early Middle Ages? As we get back into the school year, these questions might be of interest to students, and to new or inexperienced reemactors!

  1. Leicestershire
    A. Loncastre
    B. Lundenwic
    C. Lægreceastr
    D. Leòdhas
  2. The name of the most important Viking town in England was
    A. London
    B. Canterbury
    C. Jorvik
    D. Nottingham
  3. The poem “Beowulf” takes place in
    A. Iceland
    B. England
    C. Denmark
    D. Russia
  4. Sårkland was in Old Norse
    A. Muslim lands
    B. A fish farm
    C. A fallow field
    D. Scotland
  5. Blæland was in Old Norse
    A. Muslim lands
    B. A fish farm
    C. A fallow field
    D. Scotland
  6. Grænland was in Old Norse
    A. Greenland
    B. Greece
    C. Gotland
    D. Constantinople
  7. Miklegård was in Old Norse
    A. Greece
    B. Iceland
    C. Cathay
    D. Constantinople
  8. Undoubtedly real evidence for Norse in North America was
    A. The Vinland Map
    B. The Kensington Stone
    C. “Pathfinder”
    D. L’Ans Aux Meadows
  9. Grikkland was in Old Norse
    A. Poland
    B. Greece
    C. Serbia
    D. Sicily
  10. Ireland was in Old English
    A. Armagh
    B, Ísland
    C. Grænland
    D. Leprekhan
  11. The Mediterranean Sea was in Old English
    A. Heahsæ
    B. Wendelsæ
    C. Hierusalem Sæ
    D. The Middle Sæ
  12. Kent was in Old English
    A. Clarke
    B. Krít
    C. Camri
    D. Cent

answers: 1-C. 2-C. 3-C. 4-A. 5-A. 5-A. 6-A. 7-D. 8-D. 9-C. 10-A. 11-B. 12-D.


How well do you know the Early Middle Ages? As we get back into the school year, these questions might be of interest to students, and to new or inexperienced reemactors!

  1. The center of medieval maps was generally
    A. France
    B. Jerusalem
    C. China
    D. Rome
  2. 3. A quern stone was used for
    A. Washing clothes
    B. Grinding grains
    C. Mortar
    D. Executions
  3. The horns on Viking helmets were
    A. A length denoting the rank of the wearer
    B. Five Inches
    C. Ten Inches or More
    D. Viking Helmets had no horns
  4. The first white man to set foot in North America (west of Greenland) was
    A. Christopher Columbus
    B. Saint Brendan
    C. Bjarni Herjolfsson
    D. Leif Eiriksson
  5. A person of the Viking Age most likely would eat
    A. A jalapeño pepper
    B. A carrot
    C. A turnip
    D. A banana
  6. The term “Viking” refers to
    A. A job
    B. A style
    C. A military force
    D. A race
  7. The most popular pet for people in the Viking Age was
    A. A horse
    B. A dog
    C. A dragon
    D. A cat
  8. The British king with a coin with an Islamic text was
    A. Offa
    B. Alfred
    C. Arthur
    D. Richard
  9. The early Norse call spectacles
    A. Magik Eyes
    B. Nothing at all; there weren’t any
    C. Lens
    D. Bifockels
  10. Englisc parliaments were known as
    A. Things
    B. Parlements
    C. Senates
    D. Moots
  11. An ard was
    A. A light plough
    B. An ox
    C. An ale
    D. A small longship
  12. A gerefa was
    A. A reeve
    B. A broom
    C. A pastry
    D. A stableboy

answers: 1-B. 2-B. 3-D. 4-D. 5-C. 6-A. 7-B. 8-A. 9-B. 10-D, 11-A. 12-A.


How well do you know the Early Middle Ages? As we get back into the school year, these questions might be of interest to students, and to new or inexperienced reemactors!

  1. Medieval maps had what direction to the top
    A. East
    B. North
    C. South
    D. West
  2. The magnetic compass was introduced into Europe in
    A. Circa 800
    B. Circa 1200
    C. Circa 1300
    D 1492
  3. In Old Norse, a church was known as
    A A sulu
    B A kirk
    C A picard
    D A coy
  4. Commentary by the scribe in the margin was known as
    A. Marginalia
    B. Commentario
    C. Sidenotes
    D. Textblocks
  5. Books were commonly made in the middle ages from
    A. Parchment or vellum
    B. Paper made of hemp
    C. Metal sheets
    D. Papyrus
  6. Books were protected from being stolen by
    A. Keeping readers naked
    B. Poisoning the pages an keeping the antidote secret
    C. Being protected with a book curse
    D. Requiring another book to be left as hostage
  7. Right Hand pages were known as recto, and Left Hand pages were known as
    A. Leifto
    B. Verso
    C. Contra
    D. Buckram
  8. The movable type press was invented in Europe in
    A. The fourteenth century
    B. The fifteenth century
    C. The eleventh century
    D. The sixteenth century
  9. Books were hand written until
    A. Gutenberg invented movable type in the mid-fifteenth century
    B. Block books were invented in the early fifteenth century
    C. Paper was produced in Europe in the eleventh century
    D. Typewriters were invented in the sixteenth century
  10. Illustrations in books were also known as
    A. Cartoones
    B. Ditkos
    C. Illuminations
    D. Litabits
  11. A frilla was
    A. A large horse
    B. An Icelandic monk
    C. An Englisc queen
    D. A Norse concubine
  12. A Norse sleeping bag was called
    A. A blanket
    B. A hüdfat
    C. They had none
    D. Goksattad sack

answers: 1-A. 2-C. 3-B. 4-A. 5-A. 6-C. 7-B. 8-A. 9-B. 10-C. 11-D. 12-B.