Why the SCA

WHY THE SCA?

Recently, AEthelmearc’s Prince Timothy posed the following request:

“For my SCA friends,

I’m including in comments a why I came to the SCA and why I stay, if it isn’t too much trouble, please post (as a PM if needed) in the reply what attracted you, why you stay, or, if it’s the case, why you find yourself drifting away.

I’m stepping up soon, and I really would like to do what I can to restore the magic that you felt in those early days when everything was shiny and new.”

 

Currently, I am a stay at home mom. I love this job more than anything, but it can be a bit isolating. I don’t have a lot of close friendships, and I have moved around a lot. Additionally, shortly after I moved back to this area five and a half years ago, a large number of my local circle of friends left town to seek their fortunes elsewhere. This has left me feeling quite desolate.

 

The SCA kind of exists everywhere and so it’s like a built in social group even when I am brand new to an area. I have now lived and played in four kingdoms, and despite huge gaps in participation I keep finding my way back.

 

I discovered the SCA not on my own but because I had a SCAdian mother. She was an archer, merchant, and dancer in the East Kingdom’s Shire of Nordenhalle. She doesn’t play anymore, but 26 years later I still do. When my sister and I were kids, Lady Nansie took us to events where we got to dress up, shoot archery, dance English Country dances, watch Courtly Love in action, and see the Renaissance up close. We used to attend the fair at the Cloisters in NYC, participate in demos at Mother’s Day festivals, and march in Independence Day Parades.

 

When I was 13, I moved in with an aunt and concentrated on my studies until I was 19 and took a year off between years of college. I decided at that point to expand my non work experience by attending an SCA practice in Delftwood, AEthelmearc within walking distance of where I was living and I ended up spending the last semester before returning to school fencing and dancing (and eating chocolate lava cake and admiring lamps at Chili’s) with my new friends.

 

After I graduated from college, I moved to the southeast and my mom and I attended a mini Renaissance Fair in the small South Carolina town of Union. Little did we guess we would encounter the SCA there. This chance meeting jump started the next six years of my SCA life. I started attending fighter practices in the Canton of Falcon Cree. I learned to fence (epee), shot some arrows, learned to sew garb, became an officer, served in a royal retinue, and discovered the intense frustration of being a girlfriend of a member of a prominent fighting household without being a member myself.

 

I took a long break after leaving Atlantia, in which time I was able to distance myself from my frustrations and start fresh in Caid. I didn’t attend more than a few meeting and events, but I saw in the local members a joy I hadn’t found in the Society for a long time.

 

Once I came back to AEthelmearc, I introduced my new boyfriend (we’re married now!) to my hobby and we began training in armoured combat with Duke (currently King) Marcus and several other skilled fighters in the area.

 

We attended a few events, went to Pennsic, made our own armour (with massive amounts of help from Sir Ian), and at some point the fighting got less fun, and the inclusion we’d felt in the local group got a little muddled.

 

This coincided with a shift in who we spent time with.

 

While we had felt included and well trained by skilled fighters such as Duke Marcus, Sir Ian, and Duke Cignus, we found that some certain less skilled fighters seemed to think they knew better what we should be working on. My husband and I are not usually the type to tell people to sod off, and, being new, we wanted to learn, so we kindly accepted help where it was offered.

 

Unfortunately that led to a shift away from our primary teachers toward other, shall we say, overly enthusiastic members who eventually sort of hijacked our training and SCA experience generally. One person went so far as to repeatedly suggest my husband should squire to him, despite the fact that said person was not anywhere close to being a knight himself. (*more below cut)

 

At a particular practice I recall, a few visiting douc- *ahem* fighters thought they’d better teach these two newbies a lesson by hitting us excessively then gloating about it, instead of offering fair fights and advice that might have actually improved our skills and enjoyment.

At around this point our own enthusiasm drained.

We wanted to have fun learning new skills and enjoying our time together, but the attitude of All In All The Time turned our delight in the game to discontentment and vexation.

 

Then we stopped playing.

 

We spent time planning our wedding, coming back for Harvest Raid (our local group’s yearly event), and a couple of Pennsics, before we began walking to practices last summer, driving to winter practice where a couple non-combatant folks started bringing arts projects, then we renewed our membership and I became an officer.

 

The SCA can be hard to do as a part time hobby. But, I needed an activity outside the home, and having an activity we are already familiar with is immensely helpful!

Recently, I have found some beautiful ways to immerse myself in the art of the period, learning the basics of illumination from Duchess Dorinda. I am the shire’s current Minister of Arts and Sciences which has made me feel important and purposeful, organizing meetings with our gracious host, Lady Keinven, and reporting to the kingdom MoAS about all the wonderful projects our group is working on. Being an officer makes me feel significant in a society where the lowly individual can disappear in the crowd. This is both a criticism and not a criticism: It is a fact of a large organization that many people go unnoticed. I think that’s why His Highness’ missive is so important. It’s also why I keep looking for ways to enjoy the Society when I have lost interest time and time again.

 

We continue to encounter all sorts of enthusiasm. As my husband put it, there are really two different types of over-enthusiasm. People who are:

  1. Over-enthusiastic to the point where it pushes -and in fact pushed- us away.
  2. Over-enthusiastic to the point that it gets us excited to be part of the magic.

 

Fortunately of late we have encountered some of the latter.

 

Anyone following the adventures of Their Current Majesties and Their household can probably understand exactly what I’m talking about. Watching this reign from the sidelines, just barely getting involved in the SCA once more, has reminded me how much fun we had when we were spending time training with the King, and honestly, a bit envious that I haven’t felt in a long time that kind of excitement which is shown on the regular by the retinue, King, and Queen.

 

It gives me hope that if we can just find the right way to get involved, we can have those kinds of adventures, too. We can find the magic. We can live The Dream.





If you don’t want to read my bad attitude about stuff, that’s the end of the post!

If you want to know how frustrating it can be as a lifer sometimes, read on!

(**more behind cut!)

 

Read more

The Persona Quest

So, Lords and Ladies, let me ask you a very short question:

Who are you?

 

In the SCA most participants build an historic alter-ego called a Persona in whose name and garments they play during interactions in the Current Middle Ages (SCA events, tourneys, wars, etc).

A persona is like a character that you play. Unlike a stage play or a work of fiction, you are not playing a part that is an entirely different assumed being, with differing abilities or memorized written lines. Your persona is more an extension of yourself: It’s just You, if you had lived in the Middle Ages or Renaissance.

This is a simplification, because in the SCA you may learn skills and manners and even mannerisms that differ greatly from how we behave in modern life.

 

NAMES

Your persona can be as simple as a new name.

Many people use their own given name and might add a Medieval byname to give it context and flavor within the Society. In this post please take Medieval to refer to the entire SCA Period,  generally acknowledged as the Fall of Rome through the end of the Renaissance (Elizabeth I’s death in 1603), not just the Middle Ages. Others create elaborate back stories, take on perfectly Medieval names, and wear and utilize perfectly crafted period garb and gear.

 

PICK AND CHOOSE

Of the many reasons to choose a particular persona, not one stands out as the ideal reason to make that choice. Each individual, after all, plays in the SCA for her own reasons, and thus each member chooses a name, garb style, place of origin, backstory, et cetera for his own reasons.

Clothing plays a big part in our game. Some people create garb that is specific to their persona’s time, location, and status in their chosen culture. Many people alternate between garb of whatever periods they fancy in the moment. Norse garb for a Viking themed event. Venetian Renaissance for a Carnival themed 12th Night event. I love a good theme party, so while I have a persona from a specific period in time, I tend to build garb for whatever style I fancy at that moment, though that tends to be the same period my persona hails from.

 

MY PERSONA’S JOURNEY

As my husband, our son, and I walked around Pennsic on Middle Saturday, I considered my choices for Persona.

I haven’t really done much in the way of  persona building in the past few years. No specifics or focus – mostly due to our limited play time. As mentioned in my post-Pennsic blog post last year: though I had switched names from Italian (Ginevra Isabetta) to French (Isabeau and then Genevieve Isabeau) when I started playing in Caid in 2011, at last year’s Pennsic I found myself drawn back to the Italian almost by instinct. This bizarre confusion stuck with me, and so, a few months ago, I did make the switch and started going by Ginevra once more.

 

MY PERSONA

In the SCA, I am Signora Ginevra Isabetta del Dolce.

14th Century Italian. From Firenze.

(This is a double tribute to the Edwardian-set coming of age story, A Room with a View by E.M.Forster. And a secondary tribute to a character from Harry Potter by JK Rowling, and why I’m known mostly as Ginny.)

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Portrait of Signora Ginevra Isabetta del Dolce by Baron Bardulf

That’s pretty much where the persona stops.

I have, over the years, been several personas and lived in nearly as many SCA kingdoms, and my own life has influenced my persona’s shifts.

(There is an entirely different post to be written on the differences and similarities between Historic Culture and the Meta Culture of the SCA itself. This post focuses only on the Historic Culture.)

I have rarely had much knowledge about my persona’s cultural surroundings. And realizing this got me thinking as we strolled through the market last weekend.

Why, after all the years during which I studied theatre and music and was actually gaining knowledge about certain periods of history, did I choose to create a persona from an era I know relatively little about?!

Other than it being the supposed height of the ‘Chivalric Period’ and therefore seen as the most worthy by many of my peers, perhaps the best and only answer I have for that choice is that out of all the garb options out there I simply look best in a 14th century cotehardie (cotehardie, cote simple, kirtle, or whichever name you want to give the style: the basic A-line dress. Yes I know there is a slight difference between cote and kirtle.)

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My style guide. But mostly I use Pinterest.

It struck me for perhaps the first time in my anachronistic history that if anything I should have chosen an Elizabethan persona. Because I love Shakespeare. I have always loved Shakespeare. I have always loved Elizabeth I. I will never ever claim to be any sort of expert on the period or the culture, but of all the history I know, it is highest on the list, followed by the fight for the throne by Stephen and Maud, and the history of Romantic Ballet. Truly, the Elizabethan World is still the highest.

And it all started as a child, when my sister and I read She Was Nice to Mice by Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy: a history of the first Elizabeth as told by the palace mice.

 

MY VARIOUS PERSONAS

I was a kid at my first SCA event, in the East Kingdom, and you might easily guess what I chose for my first SCA name. That’s right. Elizabeth.

Elizabeth of Canterbury.

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Elizabeth of Canterbury didn’t understand the OP.

I don’t know where the Canterbury part came from. It is likely that I had learned of the existence of a famous work of literature bearing the city’s name and chose it for that reason. I did not learn, of course, the contents of that book until I was a junior in high school.

But I always wanted to be Elizabeth. I even tried to change my name to it in high school and had about half my class calling me Elizabeth by the time my aunt, with whom I lived, dissuaded me from such a dramatic change and I gave up on the endeavor. I was not playing in the SCA at the time, so I didn’t realize I could also be Elizabeth. I used it as a middle name in everyday life, instead.

In early 2001,  I started attending SCA gatherings on my own in AEthelmearc and decided I needed a new identity. During that time I received some rather unhelpful and unhistoric advice about the inadvisability of choosing common names. I assume (but don’t remember) that I made the decision to forgo my childhood persona in favour of a new more grown up one. I started digging through name lists and came up with a few different ones that I test ran at the couple of events that I went to. The only one I remember was Christiana. A name close enough to my own modern name that maybe it would fit. It didn’t, and in any case I went back to college in the fall and set the SCA aside once more.

 

THE SHAKESPEARE LOVER

I studied theatre and dance in college and fell deeper in love with Shakespeare. I got my first ever D on an essay I wrote for my Shakespearean Literature class. I did a summer workshop at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts where I learned about the harmony of the spheres and the Elizabethan World Picture and performed a scene from my favourite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night.

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Goofing off between rehearsals with Ellen (Feste) & Claire (Cesario). That’s me (Olivia) in the dress making the Narcissa Malfoy face.

I did my senior thesis in costume design for the play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (a brilliant work based greatly on Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and Hamlet by William Shakespeare) and leaned heavily towards Elizabethan style costumes.

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Guildenstern with young Alfred (c) Kjrstn Barranti Conklin 2003

 

During a semester off in 2003 I performed with the Upstate Shakespeare Festival, directed by John Fagan, in Greenville, South Carolina, as Verges in Much Ado About Nothing  and Bigot in King John. I later reconnected with the company in 2009 and performed as Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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‘Verges.’ photo by Nan Salomon
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‘Dora Quince.’ Behind the scenes with Lysander (Nick), our SM (Jason), Wall (Chase), and some Faeries.

The point I think I’ve over-made by now is that I love Shakespeare. For a long time this was one of the easiest ways to define me: Kjrstn, the Shakespeare Lover. (Currently surpassed only by my identity as: Kjrstn, the Harry Potter Lover.)

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Edited for pictorial inclusion. Because obviously I’d realize I left out the star photograph an hour after publishing.

So why didn’t I choose a late period persona? I could have so easily studied the theatre of the time more thoroughly. I had a great place to start. I knew a bit about the cultural history of Elizabethan England. I’d have had a more identifiable personality than I ever felt I had – hanging about among fighters and their households, never quite belonging, never totally sure of my persona’s culture, never fully defining my Self as a participant in the SCA.

When I think back to the mid 2000s when I was becoming truly involved in the SCA as an adult, in Atlantia, and firming up my persona, I think I finally chose a high medieval period over Elizabethan partially for the following reason:

Choosing a late period persona felt like standing at the edge of a cliff looking into oblivion; as if time really did stop when Elizabeth I died and the SCA period ended.

And for whatever reason, at 24, that scared me. I needed to pick a time that had a future.

 

Other Histories

I tried out a few identities (Dorian, which turned out to be not a French lady’s first name but a description of her origin in Doris, Greece) before becoming Ginevra, settling into whatever version of a 14th Century Lady I could figure out.

But there were other choices, still, that made more sense for Me.

For instance: England or Wales in the early 12th Century. I could have been Angharad or Dythgu.

I have read so much historical fiction from this period that while I may not have first hand accounts in my collection, I am familiar enough with the political tensions and the resulting culture to have chosen this period with much greater confidence than I have for whatever amount of knowledge I possess regarding 14th Century Italy.

 

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These YA novels are wonderful. The Winter Hare and Peregrine both take place during the contested years of Stephen and Maud.

From all my reading I have determined that while Matilda absolutely had the right to the throne, Stephen was a much better ruler.

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I first encountered the Brother Cadfael mysteries on BBC’s Mystery, in The Rose Rent. The Leper of Saint Giles is my favourite of the books. The tv episode does not do it justice. The Time Traveler’s Guide is my most thorough connection to the 14th Century. I have yet to finish reading it.

 

Anniewho, I didn’t go with the 12th Century. I went with the 14th Century.

I don’t know who ruled. I don’t know what the currency was called. I don’t know much of anything about my persona’s reality. And I don’t know what I would have done for work or hobby (recalling that the SCA is supposed to represent the Middle Ages As They Should Have Been, with far greater opportunities for gender and social equality and mobility). And, therefore, I have never been completely connected to the 14th Century persona I began but never finished building.

There were other options, too, that might make more sense for me. If I had not already exhausted myself writing all this (just kidding, I have a 7 month old), I’d go into all the reasons I could also have chosen a persona from The Viking Era!

I’d have gone with Kolfinna.

And now you should go read Beautiful Wreck by Larissa Brown. You can thank me later. And then thank my sister who recommended it. Then go thank Larissa Brown for writing the hell out of that beautiful story.

Also check out the digs:

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Fantastic event! (War of the Wings) None of this fits me anymore!

 

So, in conclusion, there are a lot of reasons to choose a persona. And that persona can be a name or a clothing style or a full personal history. Sometimes things just fall where they fall and sometimes there’s much more planning involved. Sometimes things fit so beautifully and sometimes looking back there are other things that might have fit better.

For more information on changing your persona, read The Tale of Tangwystyl.

I myself am going to do a bit of research and see if I can’t find a little bit more Me in my Ginevra.

 

Ciao.

 

 

Thoughts on Pennsic XLIV (44)

This past weekend, Gunther and I attended the Pennsic War near Slippery Rock, PA. We were able to attend the middle weekend due to the generosity of a good friend in our local group. The following are some thoughts on our mini vacation.

Visiting Pennsic as a Day Trip was one of the best decisions we have ever made in regard to SCA events. I do love the fresh air and comradery of sleeping outdoors, surrounded by friends,  but . . . I am 4 months pregnant; we are poor; our personal encampment style is not at all what I want it to be (our Shire encampment is wonderful!); last time we camped I had a heat exhaustion induced migraine and our neighbors talked drunkenly and loudly pretty much ALL night. Living only 2 hours from site afforded us the ability, however exhausting, to visit for a few hours each day and when we hit our limit, we were able to go home, turn on the A/C, and sleep in our own bed.

Probably the weirdest part of Pennsic for me was that somehow I forgot my own name. This came in the form of blurting out the ‘wrong’ name as well as trying to write my name and finding I was combining two different names as I wrote. You see, I changed my SCA name over four years ago when I started playing in Caid. Three years ago, my husband and I finalized and registered our new names. This Pennsic, every time I went to introduce myself or even sign a guestbook, I reverted to my Italian Name (Ginevra Isabetta) instead of my new/current French one (Genevieve Isabeau). I am very confused by this sudden habit. It is, I suppose, a bit comforting that in the familiar environment that is Pennsic (this was my 5th), I somehow knew who I had always been when there in previous years. This is the second war I’ve attended as Genevieve, of course, but somehow I still found that Ginevra is a part of me and that’s what came out.

While matching outfits in modern life can be a bit odd if not on a field trip with your elementary school class or summer camp, in the environment of the SCA, I LOVE Matchy Matchy outfits. Call it livery if you wish, or simply household alignment, or what have you, but I just love being able to identify people as a group by what they are wearing. For this Pennsic, I made matching hot pink garb for the two of us. The gorgeous and soft linen-rayon fabric was a birthday present from my crafty sister, and I spent the past few weeks frantically trying to finish it on time. After the number of compliments and comments and exclamations from other Pennsic attendees, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to making new garb, Bright Colors and Matching Outfits are Our Future!! Also, dudes, we looked freaking adorable.

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In the summer heat of the disputed lands having a set of garb that consists of cool, loose fitting clothing, in thin wafty light fabrics was the best (see image above). Our second day of older garb was lovely, but we could both feel the difference in our more form fitting, thicker clothes.

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We had no set schedule. I wanted to meet up with a few old friends and meet someone I’d been communicating with online regarding persona-based immersion (y’all know how important that is to me!). Otherwise, the theme of the weekend was Explore and Enjoy! And we managed this with great gusto.

Although we did not end up seeing several people I had hoped to (the nature of a campsite filled with 10,000+ people!), we did happen upon several very old friends I hadn’t seen in over five years since I left Atlantia. This was exciting and it was nice to feel that connection to the Society again.

We don’t play often, but being at Pennsic surrounded by ‘My People’ gave me a happy energy and excitement for future events.

And in conclusion, In the SCA and at Pennsic, Nothing beats

*the generosity of others

*a good pair of walking shoes

Manor Morning

What a beautiful morning! The sun is blinding bright in that beautiful way that only happy mornings seem to bring. The sky is a wide swath of pure blue. And the trees are linked by full halos of green.

An early walk about the neighboring estates with the dogs was most refreshing. A joyful breath of pure summer.

I slept for some long hours overnight and woke happy and full of life.

My husband must have stopped on his late journeying overnight to see his father: the baker’s wares now litter our kitchen with tasty treats!

More sewing today while my husband attends to his affairs. New gowns stubbornly await my careful eye and hand. I do procrastinate most fearfully! Yet, no pretty dresses can come from a folded pile, so diligent work I must do!

If the deer haven’t eaten them all, perhaps I’ll be able to pick more black raspberries later!

*lesigh*

Making the SCA Your Own

Seeing the SCA as a Hobby may seem a no brainer. It’s a social club, where we all have a common interest (history!), and we get to dress up, and do unusual (for modern day) activities. But the fact is, the SCA can be much much more, and sometimes to get any fulfillment out of it, it has to be more of a lifestyle. This is difficult for those of us on a tight financial or time budget.

There is a wealth of knowledge about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance available in libraries, museums, and on the internet. The people back then were diverse in interest and personal occupation, just as we are today. In that way, there is also a wealth of options for personal satisfaction in a society based in Historic Recreation.

In my modern life, I have always found an interest in an array of activities. I’ll try something; possibly find it enjoyable; put it away for a while and try something new. It got me a nice resume of extracurricular activities back in high school, which actually made room for some nice scholarship opportunities. But, I never got very good at any one thing. Proficient perhaps, but not great. That’s basically my entire life in a nutshell. Try Everything: Be Great at Nothing. I learn a lot about what I don’t like, at least. And it leaves room to try new things when I’m not devoted only to that one activity.
In terms of the SCA, a social club basically built on recreating specific activities and crafts of those long ago times, it is helpful for us each to find our little place in the society, to exist, to study, and to recreate. In this way, we make the SCA our own, and our experience there becomes a personal journey of fun, learning, and, occasionally, accomplishment.

I have not, I’m afraid, discovered my niche in the Society.

At times, I feel woefully alone in a sea of Extreme Anachronists.

It’s hard to play SCA Part-Time.

And it’s sometimes difficult to play satisfactorily on a small budget.

There are ways, of course. But it’s difficult to find activities where the equipment itself doesn’t set you back a mortgage payment – something my household* cannot afford to do.

Right now, my Thing in the SCA is making Pinterest Boards of stuff I’d get into if I had the energy/money to do so.

I have, forgive my repetition, played in the SCA in four different kingdoms (five if you include a one weekend invasion of Meridies at Tourney of the Sun Gods in 2005 or 2006). I have known about the SCA since childhood, understood the SCA since my early-mid 20s, and have barely played since I left South Carolina over five years ago.

In my time in the SCA, I have

  • shot archery
  • learned to fence

(started with foil, became a feasibly decent fighter using mostly epee, and enjoyed the teensiest peek at shlaugger at a couple fight practices in Atlantia and here in AEthelmearc)

  • dabbled in heavy armoured fighting

(this is by far the most expensive part of the hobby I have ever partaken in, physically as well as financially)

  • improved my ability to sew and design garb
  • tried period dancing
  • and equestrian activities
  • participated in thrown weapons

(this is the newest endeavor, and if you have the opportunity to play around with Atl Atl, DO IT, it is so much fun, unless you have a bum shoulder, in which case, it’s still fun, but you get to throw for less time than your slightly healthier husband)

  • tried painting, wood carving, calligraphy, illumination, and I don’t know how many other arts
  • and for the most part, played Lady in Waiting to my ex-boyfriend’s SCA Household and other Nobility and Royalty of Atlantia.

This last activity is what I guess I have the most experience with in the SCA. I get a little depressed sometimes that my only mark of accomplishment was standing in the shadow of Greater members of Society. Don’t get me wrong, it was something I felt I could, and should do, for my friends in positions of responsibility. It made them look good, and in turn, made me look and feel good. But I never had that one Thing that really made me, on my own, a notable member of the Society.

I tried different little things to make my mark. None of them lasted long. And none of them turned out that great.

For a while, my Thing in the SCA was pinpointing and illustrating Other People’s SCA Identity. Taking inspiration from the Manesse Codex, some friends decided to make banners for the camp at Pennsic by painting large scale versions of the images and replacing the heraldry, dress, and visages with those of Household Members. We had a lot of fun doing this, so I decided to do my own version: with embroidery.

After a while, and a lot of hand cramping, bleeding fingertips, and tearstained 3:00ams, I gave it up, and moved on to painting.

At that point I found some wonderful inspiration and began my own personal portraiture project. While researching online, I discovered photographs of the Baronial Hall at Castello della Manta in Italy. A row of images lines the walls: each identity specific. Different dress. Different items. Different and very specific personalities!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castello_della_Manta

How extremely appropriate to the diversity of our own Society?
I started drawing my friends, those in my social group, identifying what made them special in the SCA – what they were known for.

Fiercely prideful and full of Household Loyalty.

Devoted to Service.

Knighthood.

Heraldic Display and Household Loyalty.

These qualities became the individual figures’ accessories in my cheap, imitation, Castella della Scadia paintings.

When I left Atlantia, it took me a long time to want to play again. I had left the Society with a bitter taste in my mouth, and the idea of starting fresh only came as an enjoyable option after time had tempered my feelings and I reminded myself I was 3000 miles away from my past experiences and I could start again.

I started slowly.

Caid was a pleasant experience. I was only able to attend a couple of events and a rare Sunday in the Park. I was welcomed heartily by those I met there, and have continued to receive kindness from them. But, it was never my home Kingdom.

AEthelmearc has not had the chance, over all, to become our, my husband’s and mine, true Kingdom, either. We really haven’t spent enough time involved in the local society to feel like a part of it. We were welcomed into the community right away, both of us jumping right into the armoured fighting. We had (sometimes a few too) many helping hands in our training, and the assistance with armor making was astounding: between loaner gear and one of our new local friends opening his home and workshop to us, helping with the work, giving style ideas, doing some of the harder work, forming leather, using his own materials where ours fell short, and the incredibly kind gift of a helm from another woman fighter out in Caid, we were on our way. But neither of us likes getting hurt (in fact, my career could be put in major jeopardy if I sustained a fraction of the injuries some of my comrades have). A few of the fighters were a Little Too Enthusiastic about how important it is to become a squire and train to become a knight and join a Household.** So, after some frustration, armored fighting was also set aside.

Since getting engaged, married, and setting up a household, we’ve been on a bit of a break from the SCA, only coming back from time to time for a nearby event or practice.
Pennsic is coming up soon, and we’ve been lucky enough to receive assistance making it there once more! (Local generosity! It is pretty awesome.) We’ll only attend for one or two days, but we’re looking forward to it. I’m trying to get truly psyched for it. I’m trying to remember the joy I’ve felt previously, attending SCA weekend events and full weeks of War.

The thing is, SCA events are always more fun when there is something to actually Do. Watching other people can be amusing and entertaining and educational and somewhat interesting. But, actively participating is what the organization is all about. It’s time to look for that niche. It’s time to find something about the SCA that makes me truly happy. Something that everyone will look at and know, Genevieve Isabeau was here!

Pennsic will be fun. And hopefully when we return I’ll have found the inspiration to make a place for myself so that I’ll always feel like the SCA is once again Mine.

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*I mean actual real life household. SCA households are often something much more complex and often aggravating, but I’ll go into that in another post. I will point out that, unlike much of the Society with whom I am acquainted, the closest thing I have to an SCA household is exactly the same as my real life one, so here, the difference is only for emphasis.

**NOWNOWNOWNOWNOW. Seriously, some of us just wanted to learn how to fight – the constant barrage of insistence was nauseating, not to mention annoying that my husband was the only one being wooed. Unlike Atlantia, it was really nice to be included in the fighting community without question, but like Atlantia, at the point when households and squiring were discussed, I was out of the picture.

Problematic Historicism

Be aware, the following could be deemed a little offensive. But if you read through to the end, I hope you’ll see my point, and I hope you, too, will try a little harder.

I’ve been mulling over this subject for a long time but haven’t really found the right way to put it all together. I’ve tried a few times to talk about my issues with Modern Life invading my History, but today I have a bit more to say on the subject.

I have lived and played in the SCA in four different kingdoms. Each had its pros and cons, and each its slightly divergent culture, although some of the differences were surely made through time, as much as through distance, since I’ve been in and out of the SCA for over 20 years.

Today, my husband and I attended our first event in about a year and a half. It was a really good time, but I couldn’t help feeling, all day, that something was dramatically absent.

I think I finally came up with the perfect way to explain my feelings. The following is how I have felt about the SCA for many years, though it still strikes me hard every time I make the realization.

Going to an SCA event is like watching a documentary

about the making of a movie that doesn’t actually exist

when you went to the theatre expecting to see the actual movie.

Imagine watching Lord of the Rings, and instead of spending the bulk of the movies focused on trying to get the ring to Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam spend their journey talking about how Tolkien stole half his plot from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or how the artists at WETA had modeled each weapon using elements of historic and fantasy style but got certain things wrong and should have gone a different route with Aragorn’s hair. (While that might be some what educational and rawther interesting in itself, it is really distracting if you are invested in the actual adventure. Especially if the actual adventure never gets around to happening.)

In gaming terms, this situation is best related to the phenomenon known as MetaGaming. This is where you set out along this great and fantastical journey, using Gamer Knowledge (in the SCA I’d call it Modern World Knowledge) during encounters or in scenarios that take place in a fantastical (or in this case, Historic) setting where such knowledge would be impossible. But because YOU have that knowledge, you use it no matter what.

I spend a lot of my free time preparing for an event by crafting clothing and accessories that would fit a pre-16th Century European culture. I may not know every thing there is to know about hand stitching garments, or preparing a 14th century cure for indigestion, or the proper way to pronounce most things in modern French, let alone the Medieval equivalent. And I surely cannot afford the period gear that we would love to have, from a canvas pavilion to a wooden chest to disguise a food cooler, or even period appropriate footwear or brooches for my Norse apron dress.

But I go to medievalist events expecting, or at least hoping for, an opportunity to step back in time and see what it would truly have been like. We tout that our organization is unlike Renaissance Festivals because the SCA is an immersion experience, not simply an entertainment venue.

However, this is not what I find there.

What I do find is people talking about their automobile transmission problems, their favorite microbrewery, or their internet connections.

I hear conversations and tutoring (a much nicer term for the hit-you-over-the-head educational tactics of people so brimming with knowledge that they share it without considering whether the student is wanting or even needing of such an education) about “What was done IN PERIOD.”

In Caid (southern California), I had a merchant tell me that he liked My Choice of Name because He Loved the Movie it’s From…………………………………….(my SCA name is Isabeau, which can also be found in one of my very favourite 80s fantasy films, and would have been chosen for me by my parents, were people to take the idea of a Persona more seriously.) It would have been SO simple to say, “What a lovely name. It reminds me of a fairy story that is very dear to my heart.” But we don’t tend to make those translations.

I used to get frustrated when people would say things like, “Oh, so the SCA is a LARP?” because it’s really not. But now, I’m actually jealous that it’s not more like LARPS. I’m sure that like with all rpgs there is MetaGaming. But, in a LARP, from everything I understand, you at least find some people in character at least some of the time.

Instead the SCA presents people whistling the theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or the waiting music from Jeopardy, or quoting I Love Lucy during court. No matter how much I’ve always loved the movie, I truly do find it annoying when people spend their entire day quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but at least those people have a sense of theme, however overdone and tedious it has become in the past 40 years.

I get it, to an extent. I don’t actually live in Medieval Europe. I never have. And unless The Doctor shows up, it’s doubtful I ever will. I’m a writer. I’ve seen the advice a million times, and I understand it: Write What You Know. Well, I don’t Know know the middle ages. I don’t know exactly how I’d behave if I were in the 14th Century, so to a certain extent, I really have to accept that all I can do is Live What I Know. I can research and do my best, but what I’m best at talking about is what’s going on in my life Now, in 2014. But I want So Badly to feel like I’m really in some other time. Why, in a 48 year old organization built to Re-Create the Middle Ages, is it still so hard for us to actually achieve that? Think about it for a little while next time you park your wagon in the field at the event site, and after dropping your gear off in the hall and donning your garments, perhaps take your bow up to the archery range and tell your friends about how work at the mill is, or how life in court is treating you. Did you receive the correct information in the many letters sent out regarding the tourney?

If you can replace just one modern reference in each conversation by pretending it’s something Medieval, think about it . . . How magical would your SCA experience become?

Dressing Your Persona

When building your Garb Wardrobe, how important is it to you that your clothing matches the period of your chosen persona? Do you stick to one specific time period? Is it dependent upon your persona’s identity? Or do you choose one that you favour, regardless of your persona’s period? Or do you skip around depending on your preference at any given time?

Throughout my years of playing dress up (and they occupy most of my years on earth), I have worn many different styles of historic clothing.

I was introduced to the SCA as a child. My mother, Lady Nansie of Woodstock, often took me and my older sister along with her to events, where we would run about the event site with the other kids, ignoring most of the grownup activities, except that one Murder Feast, which was FABULOUS. Anyway, my mother, a former professional seamstress, made garb for all three of us. There were different styles. I remember specifically a particolored kirtle (easy, as it’s upstairs in my craftroom right now); a sort of peasant dress ensemble (chemise, skirt, and what’s that underbust bodice thingy called, a cinch?); and an angelwing gown of unknown period that was made for herself but has since been worn by all three ladies in our family both as children and as adults (I’ve been the same height for an awfully long time).

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4th of July Parade Shire of Nordenhalle. That’s me in the blue angelwing gown, tucking my hair behind my ear.

As I got older and I started getting more personally involved in the SCA, I’d often wear whatever was available to me, including garb my mother had passed along to me, and a few things she made for me.

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Pennsic XXXIV. Mostly Mum’s old garb. Age 24.
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Delftwood, AEthelmearc. My own Italian Ren, made by Mum. Age 19.

It wasn’t until over a year into my most prolific period in the SCA (age 24-29) that I finally firmed up my styles. I registered a name, and chose a period and style of dress: 14th Century; Mostly Kirtles or Cotehardies or Versatile Gowns or what have you.

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Layered kirtles. Patterns for Theatrical Costumes. Not well fitted, but an early sewing project. Ymir.
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Same kirtle pattern. Particolored ‘Cotehardie’ in my heraldic colors. Feast of St. Whatsit.

 But I also veered off where necessary. And by necessity, I mean Whim. Depending on my personal choice of the day or the event theme (I LOVE themed events, btw. Absolutely love them.).

These Norse apron dresses are some of the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn (excepting of course, yoga pants and tanktops with shelf bras in them).

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Hangerok with layered under dresses, in Baronial Colors for Procession at War of the Wings. Atlantia.
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My first hangerok. So Comfortable. King’s Assessment. Atlantia.
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The infamous Angel Wing.

As my sewing skills improved, I was able to make more complex, well fitted garments. The following kirtle or cote is one I made (with help) for my friends Kari & Sinclair’s coronation, without and with the decorative accents, and with a variety of belts.

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War of the Wings.
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Portrait by Baron Bardulf. (Link takes you to a different image from the same portrait session. The man is a master.)

I had a few other items I played in that came to me at least second hand. 

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A Pennsic purchase: an old stage costume, minus the ugly faux fur cuffs and collar. Hawkwood Howl.

When I moved to Caid, it took a little time for me to get situated and comfortable enough to give the SCA another try. Fortunately for me, I had left all my garb in storage in Atlantia, and had nothing to wear. So I made something new for my fresh start.

Using the amazing tutorial I have linked to previously (which appears, alas, to have moved), and my sister’s help with the pins and such (to get it to fit right, without an exact-measurement dressmaker’s dummy, it is definitely a two person job), I made a supportive gown in the most delicious linen-rayon blend I’ve ever encountered (Dear gods, how I wish we had a garment district like the one in LA here in Western New York!). The result was this (click photo for link to my blog about making it, including broken link to tutorial):

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Versatile Dress, with accent pieces, and veil. Robin Hood. Angels. Caid.

After I moved back to AEthelmearc three years ago, I introduced my husband to the SCA. He’d been hearing about it for several years at that point, but had nothing to wear, so I made a couple new outfits for our adventures. Tunics for him and a friend (the awesome dude who married us) for attendance at Ice Dragon, and one for me for when I don’t feel much like being girly.

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Gunther and Matthieu. Ice Dragon.
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Genevieve Isabeau and Gunther. AEthelmearc Crown Tourney.

 

These modified T-tunics are stupid simple to make. I laid out one of Gunther’s t-shirts on the fabric and enlarged the trace enough to be loose fitting. For mine, I shaped it a little more carefully to fit my figure once the seams were pinned (extreme simplification of the Cote Simple method), and belled the arms for the fun of it.

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Modified 14th C. Harvest Raid.

A pseudo cotehardie for my husband, complete with dagged hood. And an overstretched versatile dress with lovely knitted cowl made by my sister, who, incidentally, sells her own incredible and lovely designs over at NoirKnits

About a week ago, Gunther and I attended the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, NY. It was enjoyable. Expensive. Chilly. But fun. We dressed up. He wore his 14th C ensemble and I wore the old gold kirtle and a green sideless surcoat complete with dirt-dragging train.

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So many weapons….
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Sooo many weapons.

The faire was fun, but if we go again, I’d rather wear an actual Renaissance dress. Only, I don’t really have any that fit properly. I’d have to make a new one (o darn!). So I got thinking about that. And we got talking about the faire. And then we determined something. All in all, we both enjoy Pennsic more.  And then that got me thinking even more about garb. Different styles. Different periods. Different Weather and Climate considerations. So now, I’m up to the point where I’m staring at my craftroom and unable to spot much of the carpet on the floor because it’s completely covered in piles of old garb (looks like I’m taking tomorrow off from my morning Pilates!). And I spent a huge portion of my day trying to find a new style of garb. I love the versatile gown. But I think I need something new.

Requirements:

  • Easy to create.
  • Does not drag on ground.
  • Can be built with chest support.
  • Can be dressed up.
  • Is generally utilitarian.

I like dressing up, but let’s be reasonable here. I need something I can work in, relax in, attend court in, dance in, fall asleep in the camp common area in. And never feel foolishly overdressed or slovenly.

This seems a tall order. I don’t know a lot about other styles of garb. I’ll be researching and playing around with designs and hopefully creating a pattern for something reasonably Period appropriate that is also Ginny Approved. 

 

Ideas & Comments Welcome!

 

Thanks for Reading!
~Ginny

Throwback Heartbreak

Five years ago we lost a very true and noble lady. This post is an excerpt from a journal I kept in the weeks after her death.

In the Mouth of the Lion

17 July 2009

I got the message after leaving the bank.
‘Call me back, even if you think I’m in class.’
‘Is everything OK?’
‘. . . I’ve got some bad news.’
I knew it was her. I just knew.
‘Courtney’ or maybe he said ‘Arielle,’ ‘died this morning.’
Silence. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t. We knew it was coming. Didn’t mean it wasn’t shocking, nor did it mean it was an easy thing either to hear, or to know that it is true. The fair and beautiful Duchess Arielle the Golden had passed away.
He might have said ‘passed away.’
At that point the tunnel of oceanic sound fills ones ears and all other thoughts, sounds, feelings drop away and are banished beyond comprehension until we start breathing again.
But then, if you hold your breath, that is a little longer until you have to face the reality of…

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A Day at Grunwalt Manor

(an example of how to describe your day without sounding ultra modern)

 

Letters from the Lady of the Manor

At last! A lovely day at home, and a day to be thoroughly domestic!

This is made easier as I search the grounds for the servants and then recall we forgot to hire any! All the work for ME! Ah, the blessed life of the merchant class.

My housekeeper, Nessie was of so much use for a time, but I seem to have left her in a previous persona. *Lesigh*

So, with this day off, I get to spend the dawn as a wife ought to…Sprawled out across the whole of our bed as my husband has his bath before a long day copying manuscripts or whatever you call them. (I hadn’t realized I was married to a monk!)

At some point I’ll get myself up and attend to the dogs (really there’s just the one, but it sounds so much more impressive a job in the plural!)

Later on I’ll take the horses (approximately 117 of them) and go to market.

My intent was to visit the clothiers, but oh la, that’s been dashed, as I recollect now that everything I might need is probably piled in that unused room in this very manor! A victory for our coffers, if nothing less!

***

An exciting time this morning as I get to utilize the men’s privy! I’ve never been a fan, but the ladies’ privy is in use at the moment and I couldn’t wait.

Dogs breakfasted and let to run.

It turns out I can say dogs in the plural! Several neighboring manors let their dogs loose and they have been having all the trouble getting them back inside.

Have you heard of this stuff from the Orient? It’s called tea and it’s wonderful! Gunther is having that Arabian delicacy called coffee. It is likely I’ll have some later drowned in cream or maybe that Spanish chocolate. But for now, tea.

The kettle is on the fire. If only it would shout at me when it is ready. I get so bored waiting and start to do other things . . . let’s pretend it’s sorting dirty linens . . . and all the water could boil away before I get a chance to use any of it to drink!

I suppose pulling on my kirtle would suit a day of being domestic. And then, apron on. Piles of pots, pans, platters, goblets . . . . (Nessie, come back to me! I promise to be Italian again!)

A Regal Habit

There are certain modern things that tend more than others to take me out of the medieval atmosphere of an event. One of the more minor of these things, and I admit it bothers me less now than it used to, is smoking. Smoking bothers me in general, in a modern or medieval setting, though I can let it slide in most cases, because I know everyone needs something to lean on. But the times it has bothered me the very most is when it is a person of notable stature within our Society who is doing it.

When I lived in Atlantia, it was a real downer to walk past the King only to see him surrounded by a cloud of smoke, or have a cigarette hanging out of his mouth like a piece of hay. Usually he had the courtesy to step outside the main area and smoke among the trees. But I still saw it and it still bugged me.

Recently at Pennsic, I happened to encounter the Queen of my own kingdom in the camp store, with her entire entourage, buying herself a pack of cigarettes. On the one hand, at least she did it herself since it’s her habit – not asking someone else (a handmaid or a guard) to do it for her, but on the other hand, She’s the bloody QUEEN, for goodness sake. Buying Cigarettes while wearing the crown…..dragging an entire retinue through the cramped space of Cooper’s camp store. It just seemed a little…less becoming of a Queen. Maybe she should have gotten out of regalia to do it, on her own time (do queens really have their own time at Pennsic?). 

Do you have a habit that breaks character? How do you deal with it so it doesn’t detract from your persona’s presentation?