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PROJECTS FOR THE PANDEMIC VIII: MAKING A HOME FOR YOUR SEAX

I purchased two seax blades—from Germany, one more of a scramseax, a contemporary term sometimes used for longer seaxes. Damascus steel and pretty darned pretty! I won’t go into hilting them, because I did not use a ferrule and just attached the blade to the hilt through a hole driven in the wood. Some note that this is done by heating the tang, but I have personally never been able to heat it enough. YMMV.

However, I would like to speak a little on the sheath for the smaller seax. In fact, the necessity for making new sheathes was one of the reasons I purchased the blades in the first place.

While many people might not believe it, we have plenty of artefactual evidence for how seaxes were carried in the day! I consulted a favorite book, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York by Quita Mould. Ian Carlisle and Esther Camerom, published by the Council for British Archaeology. It has a variety of shapes that have been found in Coppergate. I already an idea of what shape of sheath I wanted. I considered using a brass edge, as many sheathes of the period were so edged, though I consider that not only a trifle posh but a bit beyond my metal-working skills! I found a shape that I liked and used it, while changing the stitching a little so that I used a chain stitch on the outside, without any wood that the leather covered.

I chose veggie-tanned leather, about .24 inches (2.3 mm) thick. The size of the sheath itself is determined by the length and size. By trial and error—not much by this time—I determined how to cut the leather by laying the shape found in the book against it. I then bent it double and clamped the sides together, punching sewing holes with an awl, Using the two-needle method, I sewed the sheath in a lock/saddle stitch, sewing it with waxed 5 ply linen thread (sinew could be used as well, though you should stay away from cotton or polyester thread). I tied off the ends to make the stitching more secure.

I inserted the knife into the sheath and then dunked it in water so that the leather would shape and constrict. I did learn to be careful clamping, since there is a tendency for metal clips to discolor and streak the wet leather. Make certain there is enough room for the seax to enter and to leave the sheath easily. Oil, while making it easier for the leather to hold the shape, has a tendency to discolor the leather as well.

I finished it off by punching a hole into the sheath where it was indicated on the drawing. I used leather on the first and a hemp cord on the second, then attached it to my belt so that it hung usefully at my side. Wearing it tht way in a modern flding chair dangerously entanmgled it, so using a period stool or bech is more important than just being accurate!

Although YAT has found red-dyed leather sheathes and thinks additional colors were plausible, I did not dye the leather. The leather discolors naturally, assuming a pleasant patina, and I like the effect. Period sheaths were also often decorated with leather carving, using popular designs, so you can use knives or stamps on the finished sheath.

WITHOUT A WORD VII: EGGS

Monastic sign language has been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by monks of the Benedictine Order because “silence is a virtue.” It was a method using a hand lexicon to name certain commonplace things without speaking aloud. It is not a language, per sé, like ASL, though very useful. This article was inspired by Debby Banham’s The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language.

If you need eggs, scrape with your finger up on your left thumb.

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: IIII

Here are a few possible occupations, separated according to gender. Many occupations could be followed by members of either gender, though there were more of one than the other, and. This is only a sampling:

Male

Artist, Painter, Scribe
Bee Keeper
Beggar
Brewer
Carpenter
Cook
Egg (Wild) Collector
Farmer
Fisherman
Fyrdsman (militia)
Hunter
Jeweler
Læce (doctor)
Lord
Lady
Miller
Miner
Moneyer
Monk
Potter
Priest
Sailor
Shepherdess
Skald, Scop
Slave (Þrall or Þraell)
Tradesman
Warrior (Professional)
Warrior

Female

Artist, Painter, Scribe
Beggar
Brewer
Cook
Concubine (prostition was apparently not found until later)
Dyer
Farmer
Jeweler
Laundress
Læce (doctor)
Lady
Potter
Nun
Shepherdess
Slave (Þrall, Þraell or ammmmm)
Tradeswoman
Camp Follower
Weaver

The Final Impression

There is no such thing as a final, finished impression. It should always be added to and corrected to depending on research and new discoveries or interpretations. But above all else, your impression and its construction should be fun! So, have fun and good luck!

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: III

Primary Questions

These a few standard questions that should be answered as you finalize or refine your impression:

• What is your name?
• Where were you born?
• Do you read and write?
• What is your state of health?
• What diseases have you suffered?
• Are you married? Divorced Widowed?
• Do you have any unique skills or talents?
• How do you get from one place to the other?
• Are there customary talents that are common to your station and class?
• What clothing is typical of your station?
• Do you own property?
• What is your occupation?

Occupation

There was a wide variety of jobs that were practiced in the early middle ages. Some of the job titles originated or were popular only later, but they were performed throughout much of the early middle ages.

Many of these jobs were trained positions, so that craftsmen specialized even in homes, and persons might identify as a practitioner of more than one occupation. Most were not full time employments, and it is misleading to say most were professions.

In our next installment, we will list some of the occupations. Many occupations were hereditary and even became used for later names though there were temporary exceptions, based on current needs!

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: II

CONSTRUCTING YOUR IMPRESSION

Name

What name do you use in reenacting? Is it the original form of the name or atranslation of the original Norse name? Is it a modernization or an Anglicization or some other transformation?

The use of a transformed name is rather endemic in many of the books that are otherwise full of vital information. There is an attempt, it seems, to make the modern spellings and pronunciations of the names, probably to make things more comfortable for the mainstream reader. However, looking at any good book, there is often an attempt to compromise between these two. If you want a name in its original form, the name that is given in the modern, more instantly recognizable form, you often find that the traditional form is given as well, in parentheses, in a footnote or even in an endnote. If it is not there and you want to use the original name, you should be able to track it down easily on the internet.

The reenactor must also deal with this, and there is no perfect answer. Just be very careful not to mix the names at a reenactment, which comes very close to intermingling the names of Greek and Roman Gods in the same project, a situation that is immediately hilarious in many cases. I prefer the use of a totally period name, but even that becomes questionable because in most cases, it is a modern interpretation that may or may not have been used in period.

When choosing a name, make certain that you know how and why names were constructed, and know the accuracy of the source. While it may be amusing to know the supposed meaning of a name, it is more important to know its origins. The baby-name books which list names and their meanings, however, might be amusing but are generally of very doubtful accuracy and should be regarded only s a starting point for further investigation.

Ethnicity, Class & Nationality

Keep in mind that ethnicity, class and nationality—or the combination hereof—will determine not only your name, often your costume (while styles of costume did not vary from location to location, details did have an effect) and must be considered. The addition of a single piece from another ethnicity or nationality is allowed by most groups, though more than one specific inclusion shoul be seen at single event since the common goal of living history is to represent everyday life. Ethnicity and nationality are also determined by feasability, since the goal for true living history is historic accuracy and not cheap pulp fantasy.

What ethnicity and nationality does not necessarily determine is the skin color. From ancient times, people of different races were easily found in the same ethnicity, class or nationality. Illustrations from the time indicate this, though primary literary sources do not since it was of such little importance to them. Racial prejudices seem to have started much later; at this time, religious prejudices were much more important!

MAKING A GOOD IMPRESSION: I

In living history, the term “impression” refers to how a reenactor is dressing, behaving and presenting to the public and to fellow reenactors. A reenactor can create a feasible & believable persona impression. That impression—also referred to as persona or character—tells you how you should dress, behave and present yourself and is, therefore, integral in making certain that your living-history portrayal is not just another fantasy LARP.

PERSON IMPRESSIONS

By this we refer to how a reenactor presents himself to the public. There are three sorts of these approaches of dealing with the presentation.

First-Person

This is an acting option where you portray yourself as a person from the time being portrayed. People with first-person impressions cannot give any hint that they know after the time they portray, though they do not have to speak in the common language of the time.

Third-Person

This is more a dress-up than an acting option. While you accurately dress as a person from another time, you do not portray yourself as a person of that time. You know things after the time of you portray and can help to put it all in perspective with the rest of history—even today—when talking to a MoP.

Second-Person

This is a combination of first- and third-person impressions—sometimes also referred to as a ghost impression—where a person usually portray himself as a person of the time but can break into this portrayal to be a modern person if needed to clarify things.

There are some people who say a third person impression means that you really do not need an impression. I disagree vehemently. The impression tells you what you should wear and what you would know. Otherwise, you might wear an eleventh-century tunic, cotton pyjama bottoms, rhinestone sunglasses and Keds, telling everyone you are a Viking…

Historical Impression

Most impressions are of everyday persons of the time, and living history itself usually deals with is standard. Yes, they have a Buddha statue in Viking-Age Helgo, Sweden, but the chances are that not everyone had a Buddha statue!

The exception is when the person portrays an actual person from the time: King Ælfred, Knúdr the Great, Sir Walter Raleigh or Abraham Lincoln for example. These are first-person impressions on high octane, since you must not only be well versed with what an ordinary person of the time knows but with actual biographical data.

PROJECTS FOR THE PANDEMIC VI: EMBOSSED COVER

I have spoken before of the Cuthbert or Stonyhurst gospel. It is the earliest bound book in Europe that has not been rebound, and it is bound in a modified Coptic manner. I use its binding as a model for the binding of all the books that I have bound.

The cover of the book is decorated with a peculiar kind of decoration that I refer to, with no real documentation, as embellishment. The exact way that the decoration beneath the leather was made is controversial, although recent CT scans indicate the design was done with clay. Cord, wooden carving and seeds have also been proposed, and I chose to believe that cord was used.

I did the design using thickish hemp cord. I positioned it using a foundation. I then covered the hemp with more glue. I allowed it to dry for about a day.

I used a thin leather to cover the cord. It was about 1–2 mm thick, and applying it to the design took a lot of time. Additional glue was placed over everything, and I fitted the leather to the design, pressing and squeezing it tight. The original process was not very tight, and when it had dried a little, I did it again, squeezing it tight around the cord. I discovered that the leather would dry and tighten up. When it had dried, I glued the rest of the cover.

It had a steep learning curve. My first attempts were rough as well as fairly simple. In the time since, It has become more sophisticated, and I have gradually used more complicated designs. I have done more and more, eventually coming up with books for sale using the designs. It has become easier and fun!

WITHOUT A WORD V: CHEESE

Monastic sign language has been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by monks of the Benedictine Order because “silence is a virtue.” // // It was a method using a hand lexicon to name certain commonplace things without speaking aloud. It is not a language, per sé, like ASL, though very useful. This article was inspired by Debby Banham’s The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language.

When you would like cheese, set your two hands flat together, as if pressing.

DEFINITIONS FOR LIVING HISTORY

For Kael Ball whose comment on farb an acronyms caused me to finish this post!

Some of these terms you might be familiar with. Others unfamiliar. As Lynn Bloom says, “Everyone new to a group…has to learn its code, in language and in behavior, as part of the initiation process. This is how we enter and become part of a discourse community.” Here are a few terms that that you will encounter in reenactments:

AO

Authenticity (or Accuracy) Officer, who is given the power to decide on the historical accuracy of an item.

Boffer

Mock combat with foam weapons.

Farb

Anything inaccurate, first seen in American Civil War reenacting in the 1960s. Origins are uncertain, but it may come from the phrase, “Far Be It for Me to Criticize, But…”

First Person

An impassions where you pretend to be from another time and behave in that manner, so that you do not know anything that happened after the date of your impression.

Frog and Feathers

French and Indian.

Jubbly

Anything not period accurate. The word originated as the name of a British orange drink in the 1950s, and it was later popularized as street slang. One theory is that its use in reenacting described someone who dresses as though they came from a jumble (yard) sale.

Kit

The possessions of a reenactor that might have been owned by his impression. A kit may be dictated by military regulations or merely be objects that a person of a particular time might have owned. Battle kit is a term often used to describe a fighter’s uniform, armor and arms.

MoP

Member of the Public; a spectator.

Period

i) An abstract term referring to historically authentic dress, mannerisms, etc.; ii) being in the style of an historical period.

Ramada Ranger

A reenactor who stays in a hotel instead of camping.

Reenactorism

Modern invention that is accepted and promoted as accurate to the period though if it is not.

Retro Research

Creating an artifact without doing research and then trying to find documentation that will justify it.

Ropeline

i) The real or imaginary line between which everything should be historically accurate.
Public Hours; ii) the times when the historical accuracy behind the Ropeline must be adhered.

Second Person

An impression where you present yourself as a person from another time, but you can break impression to comment on things that happened after the date of your impression. Also knownas a ghost impression.

Thenty

Accurate, coming from the term “authentic.”

Third Person

An impression where you present yourself as a person of the present and, therefore, know things after the date of your impression.

Three-Foot (or Three-Foot etc.) Rule

Something seems accurate at three feet, or any designated distance.

ACRONYMS UNIQUE TO LIVING HISTORY

A selection of acronyms not necessarily restricted to a single era! Feel free to contribution new an d additional acronyms!

Acronyms are everywhere nowadays, and many acronyms have vastly varying meanings. These are not necessarily universally used reenactors. But probably should be!

ACW
American Civil War
AO
Authenticity Officer
AWI
American War of Independence
BM
British Museum
CRAP
Can’t Really Actually Provenance

CW

Colonial Williamsburg
DA
Early Middle Ages. From the discredited term “Dark Ages”
ECW
English Civil War
LHE
Living History Exhibit
MA
Master at Arms or Middle Ages
MoP
Member of the Public (a MoPpet is a young Member of the Public)
MTA
Military Training Officer
SHITS
Seriously Hideous Inauthentic Trash
TAPS
Thick As Pig Shit
VA
Viking Age or Albert and Victoria Museum
VMA
Viking Middle Ages