Monday, August 18, 2014

Back from Vacation! Pennsic Dress! Garden! Etc!

Hello, internet!  I'm back from my blogging vacation, which means I should be putting out posts every Monday and Thursday again for a while.  :)  This post is a weird mishmash of things going on my life this week and updates from the past month or so.

First - I have somehow gotten almost twice as many page views in the past month, with me not blogging, as I had been getting before.  So welcome new people!  Yay!  I'm glad to have you around.

Pennsic Pictures!

Pennsic is the amazing two week camping SCA camping event I go to every year.  It's so wonderful.  Two weeks of living within a few minutes' walk of dozens of my friends and family - I love it.  There's also the giant rapier battles that I have the privilege of commanding (I'm Pentamere XO - a regional "executive officer" or second-in-command), which are just a blast.  I didn't take too many photos of Pennsic.  If you're curious, here's a great article - it's really long, but totally captures a lot of the magic of the place, even if you just want to glance at its photos.

I arrived on Friday evening of the first weekend, which is called "land grab," because the people in charge of each camping block divvy up the camping space early on Saturday morning (each person who registers with a camping block gives it 250 square feet).  Before land grab takes place, people camp out on the battlefield with their cars and trailers.  Someone had a Tardis trailer!

Here's my amazing region, Pentamere (LP Michigan)!  Someone had the brilliant idea of getting all the Pentamere rapier fighters to pose for a picture.  I'm so glad.  We certainly kicked major butt on the rapier field this war!  I'm so proud of Pentamere.

Someone sneakily got a picture of me commanding.

Another sneaky picture-taker!  Hanging out in camp in the evening when it's colder, I sometimes will put on my leather and fur hood.  I made it a couple years ago, and it is amazing!  Extremely comfortable and extremely warm.  I am surprised just how warm this keeps me.  The hood piece (which is down around my neck right now - it's a full hood) is lined with rabbit fur, and the edges of the piece are fox fur scraps.  I am currently working on a couple versions of this to go in my shop.  If you'd like to commission one in a particular style or color, please contact me!

Reading in camp!

Pennsic Tshirt Dress

Every year, there is a merchant at Pennsic that sells a new tshirt design.  Usually I've just looked out of curiousity and not purchased one.  I don't tend to wear tshirts, so it doesn't seem worth my money.  This year, though, the tshirt design is stupendous.  I adore it.  It tormented me all week, because I kept thinking about it, but also that I don't wear tshirts.  Two days before the end of Pennsic, the idea struck me as I was going to sleep - I would buy the largest tshirt size they had, and make it into a dress!

Here's a blurry photo of the original 5XL tshirt.

And the finished dress!  The entire dress is made out of the original tshirt, except for the black edging, which is a black knit remnant from my fabric stash.  I forgot to get a picture of the back of the dress - the design on the back is also really beautiful.

If you could look closely at the side triangles, there are a lot of seams there to make it fit the fabric.  I have a bare handful of tiny tiny scraps of red tshirt left!

Rough tutorial on how the dress was made:

  1. I took a tshirt I own that fits well (I do have a few) and folded it in half along the vertical center of the front.  Folding the Pennsic tshirt in half, I laid the other tshirt on top of it.  I marked the side seam with chalk from under the armpit to my waist, where I wanted the skirt to start flaring.  I used a tshirt for this step, not a tank top, because it's the same fabric type.  If you measure side seams with a ribbed knit tank top, the seams will be way off and it will be very frustrating (I speak from experience here...)
  2. I pinned the new sideseam with safety pins and tried it on (always try it on before cutting or sewing each step!).  After being satisfied, I sewed the side seams.  I didn't cut the excess fabric yet.
  3. I laid a favorite tank top over the Pennsic shirt (both folded down the center).  I marked the neckline and armholes with chalk and cut.  I continued cutting down from the armholes, down the already-sewn side seams, and then straight down the rest of the dress (so the front panels were rectangles from where the side seams end).  This left the remaining tshirt in big chunks of fabric.
  4. I unpicked the hem.  I wanted the extra inch of fabric that unpicking the original hem would give me!
  5. I measured all the remaining pieces of tshirt fabric I had, after cutting open the sleeves so they would lay flat.  I knew I wanted to make the dress about 6" longer (so I needed two blocks roughly 6" by 22", the bottom length of the front and back panels, hopefully in one piece for fewer visible seams in the dress).  I also knew that ideally I needed the side triangles to be at least 10" on the bottom, so I needed to be able to make a long rectangle that was 6" by twice the length of the side seams.  The side triangles would be created by cutting a long rectangle along the diagonal and sewing the 90 degree edges together - two right triangles coming together to make the isosceles triangle of the panel.  So to make a ~10" isosceles triangle, about a ~6" wide rectangle would bring two pieces together with enough seam allowances to do that.
  6. After all my futzing, I found that I could cut two the two front and back bottom panels in solid pieces with enough fabric left for the rest.  I then sewed together the rest to make the widest rectangle I could that was about 50" long (twice the side seam from waist to knee).  This ended up being about 8" wide, so I had even wider side triangles - this means more swing and poof to the skirt, yay!  This long rectangle was cut in half (two ~25" long rectangles), and then each cut along the diagonal, leaving four right triangles.  These triangles were sewn together at the 90 degree angles to create two isosceles triangles.
  7. The front and pack panels were sewn to the bottom of the front and back rectangles.
  8. The side triangles were sewn into the sides.
  9. A friend marked the hemline, and I cut it to be straight.
  10. All of the edges were bound in black knit fabric.  The neck and armholes were finished as in my favorite tank top tutorial.  The bottom hem was not stretched at all, but fit to size; otherwise, it was also sewn the same way.

Fabric:  One Pennsic tshirt, size 5XL.  A remnant of black knit fabric from another project.
Notions:  None (unless you count red and black thread, which I already owned).
Hours:  Under 10.  I worked on it for three days, 2-3 hours each day, I believe.
Will you make it again?  YES.  It was enjoyable and fun, and I love the results!
Total cost:  $22 for the Pennsic tshirt.  Maybe another dollar worth of thread.
Final thoughts:  I adore this dress so much already.  I wore it for two days straight after I made it, because I didn't want to take it off.  It is so comfortable and easy to wear - just throw on a sports bra and the dress (I love tank-style tops, as sports bras as so comfy).  I have a bunch of tshirts sitting around that I've been meaning to make into other clothes, and I have the feeling they will be sewn together to make patchwork tank dresses just like this one.

Garden Update!

I've added a fence to my garden!  A bunny or something had demolished a few of my plants one week early in the process, and I wanted to prevent that from happening again.  I also weeded the garden for the second time all summer before setting up the fence.  Things seem to be growing just fine with me weeding every month or two, so I'm probably going to continue that.  Less work = Kelly more likely to keep gardening.

Also, my garden has started producing food!  It's so amazing.  I'm really in love with it right now.  Below you can see kale, arugula, and sage.  I have cooked with fresh sage and rosemary this week several times, and the food just tastes better.  I am starting to believe all the people who have told me that fresh herbs are better than dried.

Brussel sprouts!  These appear to still have a long way to go.  I'm curious to see how they turn out.

Tons of tomato plants!  There are also rosemary and basil plants along the bottom.

Below is just one day's harvest from my tomato plants.  I've been getting similar crops (5-15 small tomatoes, and 0-3 big tomatoes) every day for the past week.  Every day.  So awesome.


Here's another day's tomato crop from this week.  Amazing!  I also had a great lunch a couple days ago, where I picked some arugula leaves and basil leaves, chopped them up along with a tomato, and sprinkled it all with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little sugar (to offset the bitter of the arugula) - it was so delicious.  I adore that I can go pick just enough arugula for a salad or sandwich, and the plant will keep the rest of the leaves healthy (and not slowly rotting in my fridge).

That's a lot of my current updates!  My garden is thriving, I am continuing to sew neat things, and Pennsic was great.  It was still hard and pretty emotional at times, and I'm still struggling a little day to day now, but things are better this year than last year at this time.  I figured out last week how to add watermarks to my photos, so those will start showing up on blog photos soon.  That way, people can easily share my photos if they want to, and the watermark will show where they came from.  Things are slowly chugging along in the direction I want them to go.  My main mantra right now is patience - I keep wanting things to be great, right now, and my friends have been reminding me that I am doing wonderfully and I need to keep having patience.  Healing is a slow process.  Patience is good.  :)

Hope all is well for everyone out there!  Feel free to share neat things going on in your lives!  ~Kell
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Thursday, July 3, 2014


I'm taking a vacation from blogging for a little while!  I have successfully blogged twice a week since February, and I hope to continue that when I resume blogging on Monday, August 18th.

There are a couple reasons for this.  First is that my life is quite stressful right now, grieving-wise.  July 4th, two years ago, is when DeForest and I went to the hospital.  July 15th is when he died.  Summers are very difficult for me, with weekly anniversaries of events, birthdays, memories, etc from the beginning of June through mid-August, and it's starting to take its toll.  This is all normal, and when my brain isn't gripped by depression or grief, I'm not worried about it.  It's just hard, and I've been finding it more and more difficult the past few weeks to make my blogging schedule.  Instead of breaking the schedule, I'm going to call it a holiday and deliberately not post regularly for a while.

After July 15th, it's less than two weeks until Pennsic, my annual two-week SCA camping trip.  Then I would like a week to recover from Pennsic, and I'll resume blogging on the 18th of August.  I may post in the meantime, but I may not.

See you in a month and a half!  I hope everyone has a lovely July.  ~Kelly

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Monday, June 30, 2014

AEthelmearc and Gleann Abhann Inkle Weaving

I am still slowly working on a set of inkle weaves based on all of the 19 Kingdoms of the SCA Known World.  Here are two weaves based on AEthelmearc and Gleann Abhann.

Kingdom of AEthelmearc

AEthelmearc is located in central/western Pennsylvania, western New York, and West Virginia.  The Pennsic War (officially between the East Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom) occurs on AEthelmearc land.

The weave for the Kingdom of AEthelmearc is a basketweave (or baltic) pick-up pattern based on the white escarbuncle in its heraldry.  This is my favorite form of pick-up weaving, and I've explained it in a few previous posts.  A couple of the pictures on those posts are currently distorted (my new blog layout is still doing wonky things to some of my pictures, and I haven't found the code that fixes it yet), so you can also just check out my class notes (PDF) to learn this form of pick-up weaving.

In the above pattern, the white is the normal resting pick-up strands, and the light red is where I have dropped the threads.  

Kingdom of Gleann Abhann

The Kingdom of Gleann Abhann covers the mundane (aka "modern" or "non-SCA") lands of Mississippi, Louisiana, most of Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee.  For their heraldy, I tried my first piece of brocade work!  Brocade weaving uses extra weft threads (the back-and-forth horizontal threads, not the long warp threads that go the length of the weave) to create a pattern on top of the warp threads.

Below is the pattern I sketched on inkle weaving paper to mimic the red and black heraldric background with a white ram rampant on it.

Unlike the nicely-drawn pattern above, brocade does not form a solid picture from line to line in the weaving, but leaves gaps between the lines.  I learned this as I played with the brocade.  Below you can see two different versions I made of this brocade pattern.  If I remember correctly (I wove this last fall), the bottom version, woven first, only has two brocade threads, and the top version has three.  I added an extra thread to try and thicken the brocade pattern to make the ram more recognizable.

You can also see how the brocade threads show up at the edges of the pattern.  This can made less noticeable if you have a woven border that matches the color of your brocade threads.  I started with two brocade threads to try and make it even, passing the threads through from opposite directions so that each side would show the same extra white.  When I added the third brocade thread, I made sure it was opposite the normal weft thread, so that there were two threads passing over each side on each pass of the shuttles.

The final result turned out fairly decent, I think.  Brocade is definitely not in my list of favorite things to do with weaving, though - it is very, very slow.  I am amazed when I see weaves that have brocade along the entire length of the piece, because that took a lot of work to make.  I'm sure I'll play with it some more in the future, but for now another brocade pattern has not yet struck my fancy.

Happy weaving!  ~Birke
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Replace Your Paper Towels Easily

A 2007 study shows the consumption of paper towels and other tissue products is highest in the United States of America at around 24 kilograms per capita, with consumption higher than in Europe, and more than 500 times higher than in Latin America.
That's from the Wikipedia article on paper towels.   I don't have a good off-the-cuff feel for how much 24 kilograms of paper towels is, so let's figure it out.  24 kilograms is 48.5 pounds.  A pack of 30 Bounty paper towels rolls (56 two-ply sheets per roll) weighs 14 pounds, according to Amazon.  30 rolls / 14 pounds * 48.5 pounds = 104 rolls of paper towels.  Per capita means per person, generally used in yearly terms, if I'm not mistaken.  That means that we use enough paper towels that every single person in the United States uses about 104 rolls of paper towels per year.  That's an entire roll of paper towels every 3.5 days, by every person.  

When I switched to using cloth towels and napkins a few years ago, I was shocked at how much less trash I produced.  It cut my trash at least in third.  We use an absurd amount of unnecessary disposable material in our lives, and it is incredibly wasteful.  It is sad that advertising has convinced us that it's really hard to use cloth towels, that paper towels are necessary, and that they make our lives easier.  Truth time: it's not hard to use cloth towels, and paper towels do not make your life much easier at all.

Before I get too much further into this, I want to say this:  Even if you don't cut out paper towels completely, you can still cut paper towel use down drastically by using a mixture of cloth towels for most jobs, and paper towels for icky jobs.  I use probably about 1-2 paper towel rolls a year now.  My paper towels usage is still decreasing as I realize just how much of a beating the cloth towels can take with icky substances and come out of the washing machine really clean.  So don't feel like you have to jump in to cloth towels and forbid yourself paper towels - any steps you can take in that direction are important steps.  I'm not here to browbeat you into feeling guilty for paper towel usage, but to try and encourage you to take steps in minimizing it.  It's okay if those are baby steps.  Don't feel guilty!  Baby steps are good steps!  A lot of the best steps in my life have started with baby steps, including this one.

You're not only helping to reduce environmental waste, but helping your wallet.  Buying towels from a thrift store is cheap, and cutting them up into small cloth towels only takes a couple hours (mostly spent zigzagging/serging the edges).  If you don't want to sew anything, simply buy a bunch of used washrags from a thrift store with a linens section (like the PTO Thrift Shop in Ann Arbor).  Used washrags are not only cheaper, but support thrift stores and help cut down on the environmental impact from new manufacturing and sending those used items to landfills.  I'm also told that IKEA sells packs of white terrycloth towels for something like $5/dozen, though I have a bias towards using second-hand rather than buying new.  Cloth towels don't take up that much space in the laundry - for me, about an extra quarter load of laundry every few weeks, and that includes my other dish towels, cloth napkins, and handkerchiefs.  Compare that to buying 104 rolls of paper towels per person in your household!  The cheapest price at a glance on Amazon is $0.83/roll of paper towels - that's $87 a year, per person!  I can guarantee I don't spend $87 a year on cloth towels.

I use cloth towels for:
  • Washing dishes (my cats will always knock scrubbies to the ground and play with them, getting them filled with cat hair, so I started using cloths instead)
  • Cleaning up any spills
  • Wiping down surfaces (tables, kitchen, floor, etc)
  • General cleaning - I just make sure to only wash those with a load of bath towels and things when they have cleaning solutions on them, just in case the bleach would get into my clothing (though I've never noticed anything bad happening to the bath towels)
  • Craft projects - yes, I've even used them to apply leather dyes.  I rinsed them thoroughly in the sink afterwards, and then washed them with a load of bath towels - never had a problem with the dyes spreading, and the dye marks slowly fade with time
  • Pretty much anything else you'd use paper towels for...

  • When using a cloth for washing dishes, wring it out and lay it over the faucet so it can dry between uses.  You don't want it getting moldy over time by leaving a wet rag crumpled in a ball.  I've never had a problem with this, ever.
  • When throwing the towels into the "used towels bin," do the same thing if they are wet or icky - give them a quick rinse in the sink, wring them out a bit, and then toss them into the bin mostly laying out flat, not crumpled in a ball.  I've never had a problem with the used towels bin smelling, and I haven't washed the bin in over a year, because I make sure I don't let wet towels stay wet in balls with icky things in them.
  • When making the towels, make sure you zigzag over the edge, or trim the edges right down to the zigzag stitch.  Otherwise, terrycloth will fray like crazy.  I once sewed the zigzag stitch about 1/8th of an inch inside the edge, and the fraying drove me batty and I ended up spending a fair amount of time carefully cutting the edges down with scissors.

You'll need a place to store the cloth towels, and also a place for used towels to go before being tossed into the laundry.  Below is a picture of part of my kitchen.  The red bin on top of the yellow shelves is my used towel bin!

I don't remember exactly where I got this, but I'm pretty sure it was at either a thrift store or a garage sale.  For a while before finding this one, I had used a cheap plastic bin I found in the clearance section of Target.  This one is much prettier.  :)

In addition to using cloth towels instead of paper towels, I also use cloth napkins and dish towels in my kitchen.  On the top shelf below you can see the stack of cloth towels (shown spread out in earlier pictures).  On the shelf below that are all of my cloth napkins.  The PTO Thrift Stop in Ann Arbor has an amazing linens section that includes a great array of cloth napkins.  All of my napkins have been purchased either there or at garage sales, for less than $1 each.

In a nearby drawer I keep regular dish towels.  These are primarily used for drying dishes (I don't have a dishwasher) and as hot pads/trivets.  They are also used occasionally to mop up spills if one of my cats knocks over a water glass.

The idea we're fed that paper towels make your life easier and cheaper is a complete lie, in my experience.  Using cloth towels is far less expensive and drastically cuts down on the amount of trash produced.  I strongly encourage switching primarily to using cloth towels, and save the paper towels for the gross projects.  ~Kell
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Dragon Finger Puppets and a Tourney!

I've made a bunch of little dragon finger puppets!  They are super easy and can be made with little felt scraps.  The tutorial on how to make them is from Vicki Brown Designs.

Why have I made so many dragon finger puppets?  To give away as largesse in my largesse tourney!  For the SCA event Twelfth Night (January 3, 2015), I will be running the Pentamere Dirty Dozen Donation Derby.

For those not familiar with the term "largesse," in the SCA we use it to mean items that people make that they donate to their Kingdom or local group (Barony, Shire, Canton, etc).  Those groups then use those items as prizes or gifts in tournaments, for people who have done them favors, for people who have won awards, to give out to children who come to big events, and so on.  It's a really wonderful system in many ways!

The Dirty Dozen Donation Derby was created in An Tir (another SCA Kingdom) as a way to encourage the creation of largesse through friendly competition, and Pentamere (LP Michigan+Windsor) is having one at Twelfth Night 2015!  There is a Facebook Group for this event, where you can post progress, ideas, encouragement, etc!

To Enter: Create 12 items based on a theme, which can be anything, from 'stuff I made on Monday nights' to '13th Century Germanic Ladies Accessories.' The primary rule of entries is that the items must be tagged (Made by ___, donated to ___ [or similar]) and ready to be given out as largesse immediately. This is not an A&S competition – no documentation necessary! Each entrant will decide where they are donating the largesse (Kingdom, Barony, Shire, etc).

  1. Populace Winner: Entries are voted on in a bean count, and the winner is the entrant with the most beans. The populace winner gets one item from each of the other competitors!  (In an SCA "bean count," all people at an event are given 3 beans to drop into the cups near each entry as votes of what they like the best.)
  2. Baron(ess)/Baron(ess) Choice: Each pair will also get to pick a winner. Those winners get to choose 1 item from 3 other entries.  (And if Kingdom shows up to our event, the Royalty will get to choose winners also.)
  3. Over the Top Award: For anyone who does 6 solo entries (that’s 72 items!), you will receive a commission from a volunteer prize maker!
Ideas: Intimidated by the idea of creating 12 of something? Grab 11 other people and do a group entry! Can't think of something to make? Speak to Royals or your Baron(ess) about what they’d like for largesse! 

Another good place to get ideas is from the Dirty Dozen Donation Derby Facebook Group.  This is the FB group that all the DDDD tourneys post their finished photos in, so there are LOTS of ideas from all the times this has been run in other Kingdoms.

I'm looking forward to all the wonderful largesse people are going to make for our Kingdom and regional groups!!!  ~Lady Birke die Jägerin
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Gourmet Pop Review 3

First I want to apologize for the quality of the photos.  My digital camera (which is about a decade old now) is dying, and sometimes doesn't know how to focus.  I've been getting around this by taking each picture three or four times in order to try and get one that's in focus, but sometimes I forget.  I really just need to bite the bullet and get a new digital camera.  Anyone have any suggestions?

On to my thoughts on the beverages!

The Pop Shoppe Rootbeer:  This is a very pleasant, well-rounded root beer.  I'm not so in love with it that I'm itching to buy it again (there are others I like better), but I definitely wouldn't turn it away.  I would happily drink this again.

Cock and Bull Ginger Beer:  Like most ginger beers that I try, this one has a wonderful ginger taste to start with, and then a sharp ginger bite/burn that kicks in a few seconds later.  I love the ginger taste, but I'm not a big fan of the burn that usually follows.  I also don't like the burn of capsaicin, and the after burn reminds me of that, in that it lingers and builds up slowly the more you drink.  For those that like spicy food, this is probably another good ginger beer for you (Matt thought it tasted good).

Frostie Root Beer:  Frankly, I was bored by this root beer.  Sometimes there's just a missing punch to the flavor, and this one was definitely lacking.  I won't be trying it again.

Boylan's Original Birch Beer:  I really like this birch beer.  It has a very pleasant mild flavor to it that is delicious.  The more I try it, the more I am convinced that I do enjoy Hippo Size Burley Birch Beer more (it's one of my favorite beverages ever), but this comes in second place in my heart for birch beers.

Reed's Extra Ginger Brew Ginger Beer:  As I was about to give up on finding another ginger beer that didn't have a spicy after burn (spoiler: I tried Fentiman's before this one), I tried this one.  It has restored my faith that someone besides Bundaberg can make a bite-less ginger beer that still has a lot of flavor.  If you don't like the burn that comes with spicy food, you might enjoy this ginger beer.  Bundaberg Ginger Beer is still a much better beverage, in my opinion, but this is the only other ginger beer I've been able to finish without feeling like my mouth and throat are on fire.  I would drink this again, though I don't think I'll go out of my way to do so - I'd much rather buy Bundaberg.

Fentiman's Ginger Beer:  As you may have picked up from the review of Reed's, this is another one with a spicy after bite to it.  That means I don't care for it, sadly, because as usual for ginger beers the initial flavor is quite lovely.

I'm torn as to whether I should give up on trying new ginger beers.  Most of them that I come across just aren't to my liking, but Bundaberg Ginger Beer is so amazing that I keep holding out hope for finding some other great ginger beers.  I'll think about it.  Regardless, I'm going to continue trying new gourmet pop every once in a while and sharing my thoughts on them!  ~Kell
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Monday, June 16, 2014

Rapier Notes from Border War 2014

I helped Warder Kata (Pentamere Regional Commander) run a Dragon Army War Practice at Border War this past weekend. Here's are my notes and thoughts from the event.

I'm going to try my best not to discuss specific Midrealm war strategies, but just what I think is open information to both sides and what are good rapier skills to have in battles.

Pennsic XLIII Rapier War Battles
  • Open Field Battle: I believe this is just the usual no rez, last-man standing battle it's been in the past
  • Woods Battle: Also similar to past woods battles (3 flags, make sure your side's flag is up at all 3 time checkpoints)
  • Mixed Field Battle: the field with three sections - a town section, a broken field section (hay bales scattered throughout), and open field section

Kata and I ran three different melee games at Border War in order to sharpen our skills: Fox & Hound, small units vs. big unit, and a timed kill pocket.

Fox & Hound

This is a really fun melee game that can be played with as few as three combatants, though having at least 6 is preferable.  It teaches communication and battlefield awareness, as teams are constantly changing!

There are only three combatants on the field at a time; the rest of the fencers wait in a line, similar to a bear pit.  Don't worry - your fencers will get plenty of fighting in, as this is a really fast-paced game.  We had something like 15 fighters this weekend, and no one stayed in line for long!

On the field: 1 fox and 2 hounds.  If a fox kills a hound, a new hound comes off the line to replace the one that died.  If the fox gets killed, though, the hound that killed the fox immediately becomes the new fox.  A new hound comes in off the line.

The fox learns how to fight while outnumbered.  The main strategy is to try and make it as close to a 1 on 1 game as possible, by shifting around the two hounds so that one is out of reach as you try to kill the hound closest to you.

The hounds learn how to quickly call for reinforcements from the line when one of the hounds dies (or turns into a fox).  It's better to run away until help arrives than try to fight on your own; it's easier to live when your opponent is outnumbered!

This causes newly-made foxes (who just killed the last fox) to realize that it's in their best interest to try and kill the sole hound before they have time to get reinforcements.

The constantly shifting environment really encourages the fencers to communicate openly and loudly with one another, and to pay attention to what is going on around them.  It also gives them a lot of time to practice calling "Dead!" loudly and clearly.  All of the fencers involved at Border War said they really appreciated this game.  It was also tons of fun as a commander to watch them learn as the game progressed, getting better at communication and being aware of their surroundings.

Small Units vs. Big Unit

One of the most valuable drills is to practice with groups of fencers that are not matched in numbers and initial strategies.  Even if the two sides of a war start off evenly matched, the local fighting in pockets on the field will often not be matched for long.

To try and simulate a variety of different fighting scenarios at once, Kata and I designed a melee game to pit one larger force against several smaller forces (all on the same team).  As we had 9 fencers, we divided the group like this:
  • 5 person team: Told to fight as a single line unit. Other than that, they could choose how to deploy their line.  I assigned a commander for the team.
  • 4 person team: Assigned as two pairs, each pair assigned a commander.  They were not allowed to talk to the other pair before lay-on was called.  Once lay-on was called, they could communicate between the pairs - as if they were two different pairs of fighters in a big melee battle that converged on a larger group at once.

We wanted the one-unit team to be larger than the multiple-units team.  We also wanted to have at least two smaller units on the multiple-units team.  With more fencers, you can make the multiple-units team have teams of 3 (or even 4 fencers), and have more small units on that team.

This was a really great exercise.  The small pairs seemed to work better when they had some amount of communication between them, and they were able to pull apart the larger line.  The line needs more practice in how to stay as one unit and shift around to overwhelm small units before the small units can pull them apart.  Usually the smaller team died before the larger team, but not always, and there was a lot of learning on both sides.  I'm looking forward to running something like this again.  By switching sides (asking players to shift slightly to make the new teams the correct size), fencers learn a lot of different tactics with this game.

Kill Pocket Scenario

For those who aren't familiar, a "kill pocket" is a scenario where one group of fighters is defending a narrow gap (a large doorway in a castle, for instance), while another group tries to get in.  The defenders will form a "kill pocket" right behind the doorway: a semi-circle of fencers, with swords facing in.  Fencers with large shields will typically hold the corners, just inside and behind the walls of the doorway, facing each other across the opening.  The rest of the fencers will make a semi-circle of swords all pointing in, with the back fencers facing the open doorway.  This means attackers must enter a deadly bowl of swords to try to get into the castle.

Our design desires in the kill pocket game:
  • Needs to be fast-paced and quick:  Kill pockets are best fought with a lot of quick coordination and drive, but sometimes they can stalemate out because fighters are too cautious.  We wanted to avoid having the long, drawn-out, people-are-too-cautious-to-enter-the-pocket fight.  For one thing, our fencers were getting tired by this point, and we wanted to run the scenario several times.  For another, that doesn't actually teach you how to fight a kill pocket - being cautious is what you don't want to do.
  • Teach fighting for an objective:  In our fencing melees, it's an important lesson to learn that killing your opponents is NOT always the most important thing you can do!!  Fencers need to pay attention to the exact wording of the rules and objectives in each scenario to figure out what they should be trying to accomplish, and how best to do so.
  • Teach when dying matters:  There are times to be cautious with your life, and times not to be, in our melee games.  It's an important skill to know when it matters if you die, and how that changes your fighting style.

To meet all of these requirements (which we did!), we designed this kill pocket scenario:
  • Defenders: 1 life (no rez)
  • Attackers: Unlimited resurrection
  • Time limit: 2 minutes
  • Objective: To touch an object inside the castle (we had a stuffed parrot sitting a few paces behind the kill pocket) within the time limit

Some tips on fighting in a kill pocket that came out of this drill:
  • For defenders in the kill pocket:  You need to keep the pocket stationary and further back.  Attackers should need to fully enter the pocket before being killed.  Defenders tended to creep the pocket closer and closer to the door and tighten it up a lot.  Avoid this temptation, and let the attackers come to you.
  • Defenders need to be more cautious with their lives:  You only have one life, so try and stay alive!  Don't be a hero and jump forward to kill someone.  This is another reason you really need to keep your kill pocket in good formation.
  • Attackers need to wait for large groups:  Attacking works best when all the fighters wait to regroup before each wave of attacking.  It is actually quicker to break a kill pocket if you wait to have a large group attack all at once, instead of just rushing in as pairs or small groups.  The waiting seems counter-intuitive, but breaking a kill pocket needs many people at once.
  • Attackers should focus their goal on a particular point in corner of the pocket:  Line up right outside the kill pocket and have your commander point where you are all trying to break through right before you rush in.  The point you try to break should be near either corner of the pocket, and the fencers should be lined up and coming in at an angle.  There are several advantages to this:
    • You don't engage all of the kill pocket, but only one corner of it.  Fewer swords that can kill you!
    • Your dead can roll to the side easily and get out of your way.  A big problem in rushing a kill pocket is when the front of your line dies, and then steps back and fouls up the rest of your line.  Attacking one corner of the kill pocket means your dead can move towards the center and come back out of the castle doorway without blocking the side you're rushing in on.  (In fact, this often fouls up the rest of the kill pocket from being able to reach your people, as the dead are between them.  You shouldn't twist this to your advantage - die and get out quickly - but it is an advantage  Be chivalrous about this.)
    • Concentrating your force makes the most sense, because how you break a kill pocket is to punch a hole in it.  Having all fencers focused on one point breaks a hole faster, as your fencers know in which direction to aim their momentum.
  • Remember the objective!!!  There were several occasions where fencers broke through the kill pocket and continued killing people, instead of going straight for touching the parrot.  They lost 5-10 seconds there!  It's important to remember to meet your objective first, and then you can kill more people.  For example, if you're in the woods battle, you better make sure that your flag color is up and you have a fighter touching the flag pole before you worry about anything else!

 Other Notes

Kata and I were giving some tips throughout the melee games, but not a ton.  Concerned about our fencers getting too tired (it was the end of a long fencing day), I thought it would be good to have a large discussion point at the end of all the fighting and not drag it out by talking too much in the middle.  I now know because of feedback that it would've been more effective to time mini-breaks into the fighting about 3/4 of the way through each scenario.  I could've used this time to give quick initial feedback on what was going well and what the fencers could do better.  Then the fencers could run the scenarios once or twice more to immediately implement those suggestions, seeing how much better they fought, before moving on to the next melee scenario.  My advice would've been sharper, as I had just seen the fighting, and the fencers would've understood and integrated it into their fighting better.  I will know how to more effectively pace my war practices the next time I run one!

One concern that was raised during discussion after the fighting was about the differing speed of people in the groups, and how it is sometimes hard to keep up with faster fencers.  This is something we all need to be cognizant of and practice: be aware of where your group members are, and how fast they are moving.  It is a good idea for fencers to do a quick check-in with their teammates if they have time, asking them what their preferred fighting strengths are, how fast they move, etc.  It can help a team work together much more smoothly.

One drill that was suggested as a way to teach moving together as a group: tying fencers together.  Tie two fencers together with a thread, and run a melee scenario where fencers try to not break the thread.  Or have a bungee cord between fighters, to make them aware of the distance by feeling the tugging.  Thoughts on how to run such a drill?

I want to thank Kata for letting me run this war practice with her - I love melee fighting, and these are skills I am glad to sharpen!  Many of the day's ideas were hers, and the practice would not have been such a success without her excellent leadership.

I want to thank all of our fencers for letting me command them, as I had a blast.  Without our troops, I couldn't do what I do!  The Dragon Army is mighty!

I also want to thank my Warder Arnolde, my love, who is no longer with us (DeForest).  Two years ago, I was the new commander on the line while he ran this war practice at Border War.  It's crazy to me that I competently ran the same war practice this past Saturday with Kata.  I miss him so much still, and it was hard to do it without him.  I'm really proud of how far I've come in all of this.  I know he is, too.  Wish I could've seen his proud grin as he watched me shout at people on the field and run discussion of tactics.

Looking forward to Baron Wars next weekend.  More melee practice!!!
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