Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Break!

I'm going to take a holiday break from blogging for the next three weeks.  Here are some cat pics to tide you over into the new year.  :)

Kobold and Gnome, helping me play board games from the futon next to the gaming table.
Kitten Gnome!
Proof that Kobold had stripes when he was a kitten!  In bright sunlight or with the camera flash on, he had subtle brown stripes.  Alas, he has grown out of them and now appears to be solid black.
The kids as wee kittens, conked out after a hard day of helping me sew.
Kobold's watching me write up this blog post right now.  Soon he'll be nudging my hands to pet him instead of type, so I should just go and indulge him now.  Happy Holidays, everyone! I'll be back on January 5th with more crafty awesomeness.  ~Kell
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cynnabar Viking Weave

Viking woven trim was often made of geometric patterns that changed on a whim.  A love of symmetry and solid, repeating patterns did not much emerge until later Saxon times.  Most (if not all) of these patterns were made through tablet weaving (also called card weaving) brocade, which is a time-intensive process that involves weaving a second weft (the short back-and-forth thread) on top of some of the threads, to hide and expose the weave in a pattern.  

The same effect can be mimicked by pick-up inkle weaving, which, while slower than regular inkle weaving, is much faster than brocade.  I've done a little inkle brocade - it takes forever.  The results are gorgeous, though.

This post shows one of my recent inkle pick-up weaves, that, like many Viking weaves, follows not a pattern but whatever whim struck my fancy at the moment of weaving.

All of my knowledge of Viking history comes from the extensive research done by my friend Sunnifa.  She reads this blog, so I'll ask her: have I absorbed your information correctly? Please feel free to correct me!  :)

In this weave, I drop occasional black warp (long) threads in order to expose the white weft (short) thread.  I am careful to not drop the same black thread too many times in a row, because that would leave a long float on the other side (the black thread hanging loose).

For more information on how to do inkle pick-up weaving, check out my weaving tag to see other posts, or check out the PDFs I have linked on the SCA Stuff page.

This weave will be my first pick-up weave given away as largesse in the Pentamere Dirty Dozen Donation Derby at Twelfth Night on January 3rd.  There's still time to make largesse and get in the tourney!  Make cool things for your local group or Kingdom and also have a chance to win prizes!

Enjoy the pretty weaving pictures.  :)

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Commission: Strong Cynnabar Heels

I recently repaired the new Baron of Cynnabar's shoes!  I patched the large hole in the heel you can see in the upper left photo, then reinforced the heels with strong leather patches to keep the shoes from sagging.  Finally, I did a little test painting to cover up a couple scuff marks.

You can see that these are much beloved shoes - they are well worn and sagging from use.  I gave them a new and longer lifespan by adding a pair of strong Cynnabar heels (Cynnabar colors are red, black, and white).

Reinforced with two lines of stitching, these heels will stand strong for much longer now.

Look closely at the photo below.  See any scuff marks in the center?

To compare, that area used to look like the toe of the shoe - brown and scuffed.  I repainted it to match the original color of the shoe.

I do custom leatherworking and repairs!  Let me know if you have any work you'd like done.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Simplest Lip Balm Recipe EVER

Can't figure out what to give people for the holidays?  Lip balm is easy and quick to make, almost everyone appreciates it, and it can be customized for personal tastes with minimal effort.  Many recipes exist online, but I find that most of them are far more complicated than necessary, requiring various exotic butters and oils.

I'm here to bring you the simplest lip balm recipe EVER.  The base only requires two common ingredients: olive oil and beeswax.

Beeswax pellets are preferable over solid beeswax blocks, because they are easier to measure by volume.  Any pure beeswax will work, though.

Make sure you choose a mild olive oil, like pure olive oil.  Don't use extra virgin olive oil, which has a stronger olive flavor.  Lip balm made with pure olive oil doesn't retain the olive taste.

A few drops of essential oils can be used to flavor the lip balms.  I've made many successful flavors with lemon, fir needle, peppermint, cedar, rosemary, and cinnamon.  There are so many flavors to choose from!  Mountain Rose Herbs is a great resource for medicinal-quality essential oils.  They also sell the tins you can use to make the lip balm, along with places like Bulk Apothecary.  I've purchased from both and been very happy with the results.

You can also create chocolate varieties by adding a little baking cocoa!

First step is to melt the olive oil and beeswax in a double boiler setup.  I'm using a candle wax melting pot as my inner pot, but any pot that you don't mind cleaning wax off will do.  If it has a spout to pour with, that's even better (the narrower the spout, the better).

The recipe: 1/2 cup beeswax pellets + 1 cup of pure olive oil.  This will fill 15-20 round 0.5 oz tins, or 30-40 rectangular sliding tins.  This ratio (1 part beeswax to 2 parts oil, by volume) yields a good consistency throughout cold Michigan winters (hard but smooths well onto the lips) and hot Michigan summers (softer but not melted, which would be very messy).

As your beeswax is melting, set out your tins.  I like to make them all in one big batch, with labels written so I remember which tins have which flavorings in them.

To add flavor to your lip balm, put a mixture of 3 drops of essential oils in the bottom of the tins, before adding the melted wax.  The heat and convection in the poured melted wax will draw the essential oil throughout itself as it hardens in the tins later.  If you add the essential oil after pouring the wax, you run the risk of the flavor lingering in the top of the tin and in creating unsightly divots in the finish on top. 

Successful flavors I've made:
  • Peppermint: 3 drops of peppermint essential oil
  • Cedar: 3 drops of cedarwood atlas essential oil.
  • Lemon: 3 drops of lemon essential oil.
  • Cinnamon: 3 drops of cinnamon leaf essential oil.
  • Rosemary Mint: 1 drop of rosemary essential oil + 2 drops of peppermint essential oil.
  • Rosemary Lemon: 1 drop of rosemary essential oil + 2 drops of lemon essential oil
  • Rosemary Cedar Fir: 1 drop each of rosemary, cedarwood atlas, and fir needle essential oils.
  • Peppermint Chocolate: 3 drops of peppermint essential oil + ~1/8 tsp baking cocoa mixed into the wax after pouring.
  • Cinnamon Chocolate: 3 drops of cinnamon essential oil + ~1/8 tsp baking cocoa mixed into the wax after pouring.

If you're going to make a lot of the chocolate versions, it would be easier to mix in the baking cocoa powder into the melted wax in the double boiler before pouring.  If only making a few, you can very quickly mix it in while in the tin.

Less successful flavors I've made (always good to share negative results, too!):
  • Fir: 3 drops of fir needle essential oil.  This had a slightly bitter piney taste to it, and was too strong by itself.
  • Rosemary: 3 drops of rosemary essential oil.  It was okay, but I liked it better when balanced with another flavor.  Rosemary is my favorite herb, too.  It would likely be too strong for many people.

When the olive oil and beeswax mixture is fully melted and the essential oil drops (and baking cocoa) are already in the tins, pour away!

As you can see, this process can get messy.  If you can use a inner boiler pot with a smaller spout, I would recommend that. :)

Try not to disturb the tins at all while they cool and harden - just leave them on the counter for a few hours.  You want them completely cool before adding the lids.

Last thing to do is to label your tins!

The essential oils will last for tons of tins.  I've made over 200 now, and I've barely made a dent into those essential oils.  Buy the smallest amounts, or share with other friends who want to make them, too!

Have fun, and happy holidays!  ~Kell
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Tanning a Deer Hide: Part 3

I finished it! I have an awesome deer hide stretched on my wall that I tanned myself! I'm really proud of this. I learned a lot, going through this process. It's not perfect, but I did it!

It's been a while since I've posted about this, so here's a quick recap. In Part 1, I went over the first half of the tanning process: cleaning the hide and putting it in the tanning solution. Then came the start of stretching and cleaning the hide, detailed in Part 2.

It became obvious throughout the stretching/cleaning process that I had not successfully removed the membrane from the hide. Above you can see the cleaner white area where I painstakingly pried the membrane off with my fingers, post-tanning.

Many tanning websites mention working oil into the hide to soften it as you stretch it. Another learning moment: don't do this if the membrane is still on the hide!

These two pictures show the ugliness that occurs if you work oil into the membrane. It stiffened the hide, too.

The reason why this post is so far from the others (the last post was in April) is that I got sick of peeling the hide after many hours of working on it. I rolled it up and stuck it in a corner of my living room to work on later. It was tanned, so it wasn't going to rot or smell at all, but it was stiff like a piece of poster board and needed more love before it could turn into anything neat.

This October, I decided to host board games at my house for Halloween. You know what that means, right? Cleaning. Deciding to clean my house finally made me unearth the hide and finish it, haha.

Instead of hand-peeling the membrane off, inspiration struck me: I sanded it off! I unrolled the hide outside, grabbed my sand paper, and got to work. So much quicker and easier!

If you're ever tanning a hide and find some membrane you didn't get off well - you can sand it off. Below is the before and after picture. The right image (post-sanding) is smoother and whiter, without the bumpy ridges that was the dried hide membrane.  The surface was much softer to touch.

Sanded hide! Even the ugly areas that I had oiled sanded off just fine.

I decided that I wasn't going to worry about making the hide supple enough to make clothing out of it - I didn't have the patience with this particular project anymore. Besides, clothing wears out, and there's a part of me that wants to be able to keep my first hide for a long, long time.

I went to Home Depot and bought some 2x2's, had them cut, screwed them together, and stained it with my favorite stain (dark walnut). I also picked up some jute cord, because it had a nice brown color and natural feel.

Before stretching the hide on the frame, I stuck it back in my bathtub in a few inches of warm water and a couple capfuls of laundry detergent. I had been too cautious before in cleaning the hide post-tanning, and I wanted to be able to pet the hide without my hand coming away salty and gunky feeling. I worked the laundry detergent into the hair side thoroughly by hand (15 minutes?), which also re-wet the hide for stretching.

I started at the middle of each of the sides, poking holes in the hide with my awl and feeding the jute cord loosely through the holes. Once all the holes were made, I tightened the four sides a bit at a time until I couldn't tighten it any more without the hide ripping.

Finally, I worked fat liquor oil (3 ½ ounces of neatsfoot oil combined with 3 ½ ounces of warm water and 1 ounce of ammonia) into the hide, to try and soften it a little.

I didn't bother to cover the hide with plastic overnight and work the stretched hide (to make it supple), but just let it dry, as it was going to be decorative, not functional.  

It took the better part of a week to dry fully.

The hide isn't perfectly soft, but it sure looks fantastic on my wall!

Improvements if I do this process again:
  • Buy a fleshing knife and follow this video for getting the membrane off the hide before tanning
  • Get some small clamps and a frame for stretching the hide - the holes made by the jute here would've ripped if I'd applied a lot of force to try and make the hide supple while on this frame (I imagine the reason a lot of hides have little square marks along the edges is from clamps used during the stretching/softening process)
  • Soften the hide while stretched on a frame - it is far too hard to stretch by hand otherwise
  • Get more advice from other people who've done this

If there's a RUM (Royal University of the Midrealm - a big SCA teaching event, with lots of classes) near me next year, I wonder if I should try to get a gathering of people who can teach each other about tanning together. A tanner's roundtable, like the leatherworker's roundtable from last year.  Or maybe I should throw together such a thing at Pennsic next year... Thoughts?

Has anyone else tried tanning? Or had a project that didn't quite go as planned, but still turned out neat? Tell me stories!  ~Birke
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