Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Pourpoint Commission: The Long Dark Night of the Quilting

Current status: 
Quilting.  Lots of quilting.  It will never end. I have binge-watched the LOTR trilogy and am working my way through Daredevil and I still have a long way to go.  However, I want to capture a few thoughts in media res.
Where we started

  • The PVC quilting frame is sufficient unto the purpose--I could not do the project without a frame, that's very clear--and the break-down-ability is a critical success factor for my environment.  But, this comes at a cost: I have to keep pulling the fabric tight (somewhat minor nit), and the pipes come loose from their corner joins every time I shift the frame at all (irritating AF).
  • The ordinary quilting wisdom definitely applies here: start in the middle of the piece and work towards the edge.  Things get wonky if you don't, even if you think everything's pinned down right and tight.  
  • I'm using Wm. Booth's 60/2 unbleached linen thread for the quilting.  I think it's a little more coarse than is quite right, and also it is showing up super obviously against the dark green fashion fabric; but it's working just fine.
  • It's very hard to judge whether I'm getting the same padding thickness from piece to piece (or even on the same piece, betimes).  I expect this is one of those cases where, if it's your whole career, it becomes second nature to eyeball it. 
  • After, hm, 16 hours of work I think?, I have finished quilting both back pieces and most of the right front, and my current best rate is about 6" of quilting in 10 minutes.  That rate is unsustainable for long periods, though, because your eyeballs start aching.
  • I really need to find metal button forms ASAP. I may be able to kludge some of the 18th/19th century repro stuff for this--they'll get covered with fabric anyways.  But I need to prioritize lining up some test objects.
Back to work.

[1] This issue is exacerbated by some already-done parts getting smushed down by the clamps at the side of the frame, as I have to adjust the working area.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Much Brain, Little Progress


It's been awhile.   Part of this has been The Holidays, part of it two lurgies (the second one culminating in a mondo sinus infection that I'm still taking antibiotics for), part of it was, well, okay, *humblebrag* a trip to Germany where I got to see Gold Charlie (!!!1!), along with many other of our favorite hits.  But to be entirely candid, my absence of either writing or, y'know, actual productivity has been the socio-political situation of the nation.  I spend a lot of my time in states of rage or despair or both, and when I try to muster my forces to do something artistic or creative I am swamped with feelings of "what does this matter when the world is on fire?".  I am working to retool my brain in this, because a) I have made commitments to people, b) mental health requires both downtime and creative time, and c) fuck these assholes[1] I'm gonna make things[2].   

I did make some small progress on the pourpoint over the hols; I bowed 500 grams of cotton, which took two movies[3] to do (including rest breaks, which there were many of).  I've ordered proper linen and silk sewing thread for the quilting work. And, I've re-stretched my base linen on the frame, but without setting it up completely, so the cats can't use it as a hammock; so all I have to do is pop the top part onto the standing part, and go.  (Goal is to make the setup and takedown easy enough that I can get a reasonable amount done in an evening.)

This is the photo from the exhibition catalogue;
the buttons in question are the three at center top.
You can't see in this shot, but they have shanks that
are about the same as the ones below them.
My trip as relating to the Pourpoint Commission:  Well, I got to see Gold Charlie, obvs.  It being in a special exhibition, of course I couldn't take photos (I snuck the one up top, as you do), but to be honest, the way he was on display meant that there wasn't a lot to see that I didn't already know, either from books or from standing on the shoulders of giants.  Now, had we been able to see his inside... But it was still a highlight and I got all giddy.  More immediately useful, however, was a display in the same case, of various buttons and belt bits dug up in Prague.  These included some flat metal button forms which, the label text contended, were the same as the flat buttons on Gold Charlie (fabric-covered, obviously).  Pressing my nose to the glass, I think they have the right of it.  So I need to find a source to approximate those.  (They didn't specify anything regarding the round buttons on his top part, but they also look to have a firm base, so I assume those are probably metal as well.)  I did also buy the enormous companion book to the exhibition, which is entirely auf Deutsch; from what I puzzle out on Gold Charlie's entry, they only mention the use of linen thread, which seems off to me; from all I've observed, the medievals seem to prefer like thread to like fabric--as previously noted, the Black Prince's jupon[4], silk velvet, uses silk thread for quilting.  (Red Charlie has silk thread on his outer, silk layer, and linen thread on his linen inner layer.) What I figure to do is use linen thread on the linen test unit, and silk thread on the final project.  

Editorial and possibly too-judgy note: I do not for the life of me see how anyone can look at Gold Charlie and think those quilting lines are an after-market conservation add.  Maybe it depends on how he'd been displayed in the past; I dunno.

Passementerie crown from a
reliquary of Kunegunde; 14th
century.  Super nifty. Again,
photo from catalogue
But! This was only a fraction of my adventures.  We went to Bamberg Cathedral and the Diocesan Museum there, where lives the Star Mantle of Henry II (and several other big muckin' embroidered things attributed to him and Kunegunde), and the entire burial suit of an 11th-century bishop--none of which you can take photos of, I may add; I bought the book but it's not super great for pictures.   The Germanisches Nationalmuseum has, of course, a hojillion other medieval stuffs, even if a bunch of them are not on display at any given time; but my old buddy the heraldic embroidered pouch was out and I got many, many photos of him.  (Including the details of how his tablet-woven edges work, woo hoo.)  I feel like I could give a paper just on his construction details (though I may need help from the more expert tablet weavers for specifics of the pattern because I'm not very good at this game yet).  And there's a bunch of stuff in the Imperial Castle Museum in Nuremberg--most of it not textile or costume related, it's true, but good general aesthetic (lots of arms & armor, too, for the people into that stuff).  And we day-tripped to Munich and went to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, which has TWO WHOLE ROOMS of nothing but medieval textiles.  I am a failure at getting details of these, because with a few exceptions there were no labels next to the pieces, just on giant unwieldly cards in pockets at the corner of the room (and entirely in German); and very little of this stuff is in their online collection. -_-  But I got many photos and we can always cross-reference with the book which they had in the room but not in the gift shop, wtf you guys.   

Kinda small but
click through, you'll
see what I mean
I also saw a lot of art in various media that was capturing the 14th century beau ideal; particularly the Schöner Brunnen in Nuremberg's town square, which is actually original--something I didn't realize at first, because it's in such perfect condition, especially when you consider that most of Nuremberg was completely pulverized in WWII.  But it's covered with Important Figures in a range of outfits--the nine worthies are in high fashion, prophets and philosophers are in more modest clothing, etc.   And here's a thing, my Gothic peeps: all the high-fashion gents, not just here but all over, have the big plaque-like hip belt we're used to seeing; but many of them also have a similar but smaller belt around the wasped portion of the waist.  It seems to be entirely decorative, not functional--pouches and daggers and things are always hanging off the hip belt--but it's all over the place.  (And it's definitely a belt; I got a photo of a St. George in the round that shows its buckle and strap in back.)  Thoughts?

Anyways, getting back on the wagon: today I need to sketch out some ideas for [REDACTED], which is a team project with a longer fuse, but we want to get our designs settled & approved so we can appropriately source materials and plan out the work.  After that, I'm going to crack the whip and get quiltin'.  I want to have the final of the pourpoint commission done for Mudthaw, which is March 25th.  This was a lot more plausible before I lost most of January to being sick; but if I could do the 19th Century Project in two months, by the Lord Harry[5] I can do this.  

Current music: Pink Floyd, "On the Turning Away"

[1] Seriously: Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, was insinuating that the pussyhats were mass-produced in overseas sweatshops.  Because dead white guys can't understand that we create things.
[2] I was away during the Pussyhat Project, to my sorrow, but I have procured two different yarns--one acid green, one flesh-and-dark-green, to make brain hats for the March for Science on Earth Day.  
[3] Ladyhawke and Watership Down, if you really wanna work out the exact times
[4] What should we label this?  Heraldic Eddie?   Just plain ol' Eddie, since there's only one of him?
[5] I am trying to become less potty-mouthed, and find interesting oaths to use instead.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Little Pourpoint, A Few Museums


Following the head-clearing of the most recent post, I hitched up my belt and decided to just start somewhere; this is the test piece after all, and if it's not perfect, that's okay.  And since I am pretty clear on what's going on with the body pieces at least, that seemed like a good place to start.  

Marking the quilting lines on the
LB piece
I laid out my base linen and transferred the body pattern pieces[1] (left front, right front, upper back, lower back) onto it, incorporating the various notes and adjustments[2] from the muslin; a process that, once again, makes me long for a) a large table, b) a light-box, and/or at the very least c) pattern weights.  Then I moved it to the ironing board[3] and, just for the first piece I'm going to work (the lower back, which is the least significant piece) marked the seam allowance & quilting lines there.  Now, Gold Charlie's quilting lines are 3.4cm apart; this is about 1 inches.  My gridded ruler doesn't do thirds, so I started with 1¼; that looked too narrow, so I went up to 1½. Once that was done, I got the whole linen length onto the frame.

if you think these lines look cock-
eyed, you are entirely correct
With some labor, I got the whole thing under good tension, and then looking at the LB piece I saw that the lines were quite uneven, in spite of using a gridded ruler to mark the center line (which instead wandered off to something more like Manhattan-north) and all my other careful efforts.  Grumble.  So, spent some time redoing that.  Then I cut out the fashion-fabric linen for the lower back.  This was the end of the evening on a Saturday, so I figured as how to leave it set up; get to bowing cotton on Sunday; and hopefully be able to quilt a bit several evenings of the week.

Unfortunately I did not take lessons from my wiser and more experienced friends; and I woke up to an Earth-Shattering Kaboom and learned that although this cat hammock could take one cat, it couldn't take both of them.

I lost my momentum at this point and put the whole thing aside for several days.  About the time I was ready to buckle down again, I cleverly fell down our building's stairs and committed various indignities to my shoulder and wrists, which made bow operation impossible for several more days.  And now we're into the pre-holiday whirl.  Argh.  

That said, I did get some medieval head-feeding going on!  I went up to my sister's outside Boston for Thanksgiving, and she thoughtfully provided for my entertainment with a trip to the Peabody-Essex Museum, an institution I had been entirely unfamiliar with.  They are notable for having one of the best collections of Asian art in the US (including an entire Chinese house); but our trip was for an exhibition on shoes, put together by the V&A, with some local additions--the Peabody Essex also has a huge shoe collection (who knew?).  So I would have enjoyed the heck out of it to begin with; but imagine my surprise and delight to find some period shoon I hadn't seen before:

14th-century poulaine. That is one narrow-looking
sole if you ask me
Tudor shoe.  Note the nice big toe box. No bunions
for these guys.
And then, the weekend following, we went down to Baltimore to the Walters Art Museum, another institution I had been entirely unfamiliar with (do you sense a pattern?).  This trip was triggered in an unusual, possibly unique, manner; when we were at the V&A in October, a whole bunch of cases in their medieval rooms had little "sorry!" notes to state that this or that piece had been lent to the Walters for their "A Feast for the Senses" exhibition.  By the sixth or seventh of these, we looked at each other and said "well OK, I guess we're going to Baltimore"; and so we got us up a convoy and did so.  It develops that the Walters has one of the best medieval collections in the US (how the hell did I not know this?!), so even without the special exhibition it would have been entirely worth the trip.  But! The special exhibition is exceedingly well done, and I heartily recommend it to your attention, if you can fit it into your holiday schedule (it closes Jan. 8).  No photos, naturally, but the exhibition catalogue is nice.

[1] Does the fabric grain cease to matter (in a structural sense) in a case like this, because of all the padding & quilting holding everything in alignment?

[2] Marking on the ironing board was a horrible choice for a host of reasons, including "squishy board cover", "not being able to have the whole piece flat at the same time", and "insufficient light".  I should have done it on the floor, or possibly once the piece was stretched on the frame (which is where I ended up re-doing it).

[3] NB: I did not make any changes in the pattern pieces to account for the quilting.  On the test swatch, there was no difference side-to-side, and less than a half-inch top-to-bottom; and I expect to quilt the piece less fully than the swatch.  Let's see what happens!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: A Little Lost In The Woods

Current mood:

This didn't help either.
In spite of last weekend's delightful surprise and concomitant confidence-building, it must be admitted that I haven't exactly been tearing out of the gate on this project subsequently.  A good part of this is due to post-election emotions, a combination of "what does it all matter" +  compulsion for immersive escapism[1] which I've found exceedingly difficult to overcome.  But even setting that aside, the problem is that I can't see my path clearly, and that's stopping me from even starting the parts I do have a plan for.  So, let me try and lay it all out.

I have established that the pieces much be stretched for quilting, or the quilting won't work. -> It is known that Red Charlie was done this by stretching the base fabric on a frame, and then putting the padding and then the fashion fabric on top, and quilting 'em all together. -> Logically, since the same guild would make Red Charlie and Gold Charlie, they'd do the same technique.  (And also, I can't figure out any other way to do it given the original postulate.)

Points of question:

  • This is somewhat wasteful of the base fabric, as you have to have enough unused space around the edge to attach it to the frame. Is that cricket?
    • I think that's OK for this project because it's a rich guy's garment and if he's affording silk damask he doesn't have to give a tinker's dam about a few scraps of linen--but it opens the question of, how did they do the common soldier's aketon?  He can't afford it.  What's the process for him?  And what am I missing by not knowing it?
  • Stupid minor nit: what is the best analogue for period silk sewing thread?  I used silk buttonhole twist for quilting the swatch, and it worked well, but is it right?  Even St. Janet didn't specify anything other than "silk thread".
  • How does one actually do the assembly?  My assumption is:
      1. Draw the pattern pieces onto the base fabric
      2. Stretch base fabric on frame
      3. Cut out the pattern pieces in the fashion fabric
      4. For each piece, put a bunch of tow on top of it, and then the fashion fabric on top of that
      5. ??? Stitch?
      6. Profit! 
    • But I'm not sure if one ought sew around the edges (say, just inside the seam allowance) to make a "pillow" like I did for the swatch, or just quilt away, and what the ramifications are in either case.
  • And even then, how the heck do you pad the sleeves?  
    • We know[3] they're assembled pre-quilting, so it can't be approached like the above method.
    • So. You have to quilt a piece shaped roughly like a giant wedge of cake.  How?
      • Embroidery Option #1: Lace it into a slate frame.  
        • I'm pretty sure this won't work because the piece is too heavy.
      • Embroidery Option #2: Tack it to a larger piece of fabric and stretch that to your frame.
        • Non-starter; it would mean there's another piece of fabric on the sleeves, and there isn't.
      • Quilt it without stretching it.
        • I have pretty conclusively shown why that doesn't work (unless there's some magic-bullet technique I wot not of).
      • Build a blanket fort and snivel in confusion.  <--- YOU ARE HERE
      • The only thing I can think of is to do it on a very small frame and moving the work section frequently; but I foresee challenges in trying to tack down the parts that are already padded.  I'm not sure it will work at all.  But this is the least worst option I have come up with.
It's funny; I used to merrily plunge into things with no clue of what I was doing and deal with problems as they appeared; and after long and painful experience (both at work and personally) I finally learned to plan everything out, gather my information, line it all up, and then proceed.  So of course, now I have to un-learn all of that, and remember how to be careless again.  Wait, what?

This is the best photo of Gold
Charlie's inside that I could find

[1] I've been replaying Skyrim.  Because getting chewed on by giant bears and hacked up by deadites[2] seems like a more promising environment.  At least they *have* an environment, which we soon won't.

[2] and at least I can shoot the bad guys with my trusty bow; not a winning strategy for real life.

[3] Do we know this for certain sure?  The quilting lines really, really look like it, and it would be the natural conclusion from looking at them.  But the inside construction has never been truly studied, AFAIK; and if you've eliminated the impossible--

Monday, November 14, 2016

So, This Happened.


Warning: SCA inside baseball ahoy

Saturday, after a lively and interesting arts & sciences competition[1], we settled in for a long winter's nap court, a game which I expected to have exactly zero skin in.  Imagine my surprise when I got called up before the Queen and inducted into the Order of the Maunche, which is Kind Of A Big Deal.  I will not swear that I wasn't a bit teary-eyed, but I firmly deny bawling my eyes out in the back afterwards, even if someone managed to get it on film.  It's obviously Photoshopped.

(Yeah, I have two medallions!  One is a tiny goldwork pin Beth made for me, having taken note of my muttering about how, meaning no disrespect to storied traditions, having a big ol' device worn as a pendant is super not-period for practically anywhere in medieval Europe {particularly when you have several of them jangling around your neck); the other is an Ancient & Honorable old-school medallion of our family and I shall wear it with pride when I'm not gussied up in spite of those mutterings.) 

What now?  Well, much as with marriage with someone you've already been living with for years, both nothing has changed and everything has.  I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing; it does not change my project list (or my angst about it) one iota.  But there's a reason that thar scroll says "...and responsibilities therein attendant".  The tangible and obvious one is to make recommendations to the monarchs regarding other candidates, but that unpacks to some serious activity: seeking out the work of artisans I don't know, paying attention to the ones I do know, helping, guiding, advising, and in all ways working to support and further the arts.  This is not a small thing, particularly as it runs counter to my preferred state of existence, namely "melting into the background".  HELLO PERSONAL GROWTH  

[1] I didn't win anything, but I didn't particularly expect to; it's not as if I had a finished piece or anything, just a work in progress.  What I did have is lots of good conversations.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: Getting Down To Brass Tacks

i have been waiting so very long to use this joke

I spent some time yesterday morning wandering through the retail wonderland around the country estate looking for proper-sized embroidery frames to use for the $@&! swatch, and came up empty.  (Michaels did have a small version of the Muckin' Big Quilting Frame, but I figured the snap-on PVC bits were not going to be super-successful with the thickness of padding I have {since I didn't leave enough border around the padded center to clamp it down just on that}.)  Whereat the beloved redhead pointed out that, if all I needed was wood assembled in a square shape, we could easily get wood and nails at Home Depot and bang it together in his garage.

Today, on Blue Peter...
Well OK then.  $11 later, we had four wood bits cut to roughly 8" length; a packet of nails; a packet of sandpaper; and a bunch of, yes, brass tacks.  It wasn't quite as simple as that--the nails started to split the wood, because it's cheap-ass crap, so we had to drill the nail holes; but within about half-an-hour I had a Functional Square Thingy with the rough bits sanded down so as not to catch on the swatch (unlikely) or me (very likely).  It is not pretty and it is not even and it will win no prizes, but it was fast and cheap and sufficient for the work before me. I had a little bit of worry that I wouldn't be able to get the tacks into & out of the wood--there is a special doover that the embroidery peeps use for this purpose--but a) I have a hammer and b) this is why I bought the packet of 200 tacks.

I got it home and started futzing with it, and somewhat to my surprise, it wasn't too tricky to get the piece stretched on the frame.  For the most part, I could just push the tacks in with a reasonable amount of force, though there were a couple places where they just would not, but banging on them with the nearest rock sufficed.  I started with the tacks spaced about 1.5"-2" apart, but I was still getting some play, so there's now one tack per inch on each side.  And now, the quilting.

An hour of solid work. *sob*
Fun fact: even with the linen stretched mightily across the frame, the cotton tow is still thick and loose enough that even if you stab your needle straight through the piece, there's a lot of airspace inside for it to come out somewhere...else.  Dramatically else, in fact.  So, I'm having to stab the needle down on its marking line on the top (which is actually the bottom, never mind[1]), flip the frame over, make sure the exit point is in line on that side, pull the stitch tight, and do the same thing in reverse.  For every single stitch.  This is...not fast.  But it is working.  And, on a positive note, I am not having any problem at all getting the needle through the layers, so hooray for bowing the cotton.  And I'm getting an average of 6 stitches per inch, which is still pretty kindergarten-level as quilting goes, but meets Minimum Viable Product.

I'm not anticipating moving the work forward today much, since my dashing consort and I celebrate three years of togetherness on this day[2] and we intend to go out to the Botanic Gardens and then come home and make a full Sunday dinner in our new celebratorily-purchased Le Creuset roasting pan[3], but at current rate of progress I am tolerably confident I can still finish this in good time. If the world doesn't end Tuesday night, anyways.

Also, I bloody hate Daylight Savings; or at least, not specifically being in GMT -0400 vs -0500, but changing the clocks abruptly.  It completely messes with my internal time sense (which is why it's 8am on a bloody Sunday and I've already had coffee, apple crisp, and a full blog post) and it also makes my cycle commute a ton more dangerous.  MAKE IT STOP.

[1] I have it upside-down on the frame (i.e., lining on top) because that's where I marked the chalk lines to quilt along (in sad and uneven fashion; see previous post's footnote about marking these before you stuff the piece, you numpty).
[2] The date is actually tomorrow, but it's a work day and we're going with a bunch of people to see Doctor Strange, so.
[3] yes, we are some goddamn party animals around here

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Pourpoint Commission: Two Steps Forward, You'll Never Believe What Happens Next


The last several days have been something of a roller-coaster ride. As previously alluded-to, on Sunday I was kindly lent a bow by a fellow artisan, and had a go at bowing cotton. What, you may well ask, is bowing cotton? It's exactly what it sounds like; but to answer the actual question, what you're doing here is taking the cleaned but still very clumpy raw cotton and breaking up the fibers; it is kiiiiind of like combing or carding wool, except that part of those processes is also geared towards aligning fibers to make yarn, and we are not doing that here; the sole object is to make the cotton evenly foofy and no longer clumpy. Why twanging the fiber against a bowstring is a great way to do this, and who thought of it first as a clearly obvious solution, are matters of complete opacity to me.

But it sure as heck works. 

Two portions of cotton, each 30g, pre- and post-bowing.
...Eventually. For the first half-hour or so, I was just sort of holding the bow casually at waist height and kind of twanging a little bit; this was working slightly, but very slowly and ineffectually, and I was getting a blister on my thumb from holding it strangely.  As well, the bow was strung upside down (this is a bow where that matters).  Once we re-strung it, over my protests of "it's fine really I am sure it doesn't matter", and I held it like an actual bow (as seen, in, ya know, the video I was attempting to follow), suddenly it started working like gangbusters; thus leading to the immortal battle-cry of "Things work SO MUCH BETTER when you do them right!!"   I think I need to have that translated and use it as my motto.   But, in any case, after about three hours I had a mighty chunk of bowed cotton, where "mighty" equates to 30 grams.[1]  (This was not an arbitrary number; I had calculated that as the weight of cotton batting I'd used in the first swatch.)  

I still thought it best to baste the border around my swatch so that the cotton would not come oozing out, so I did that thing[2], and then figured to lace it into my Big-Ass Quilting Frame™ as you would into a slate frame.  That was a glorious plan, oh yes it was.

The ultimate visual representation of *sad trombone*

Physics was clearly not on my side here and I realized I was going to need a different solution. My first kludge was to try sticking it in my biggest embroidery hoop, but the stuffing proved way too thick for that. The next fallback option is to get a frame of a more reasonable size. Well, I had meant to get one for embroidery projects anyways...but this is not the kind of thing you can usually rock up to your corner store and grab, or even get on Amazon; and I have blithered away far more time than I can comfortably spare already; I really need to be cracking on this. I have a couple irons in the fire and hope to have some kind of solution by Sunday, but AAAAAAAA.

Even putting the swatch aside, this has caused me to have some deep and uffish thought about how to do the actual bloody garment. I'm used to making garments in what I guess you'd call a piecework kind of way: cut out the pieces, make up the pieces (for however much or little that calls for), join the pieces. The more I chew it over, the more I'm thinking that's not how you can approach this work; I think it has to be done in the same way as the "3-D shapes on a flat ground" method, where the lining/base layer is stretched on a frame and the padding & fashion fabric are built on top of it. (Of course, less engineered than that technique, so simpler. Yay? I think?) I don't see any other way to make it work. If any of my illustrious readers has insight here, I shall be eternally grateful. And will bow lots of cotton for you.

[1] Also some quite sore shoulder and arm muscles that would be much worse the next day.  If only this was an easy motion to do with the off-hand as well, it could be a great workout--and it would produce something useful for your time, which is the core problem with a lot of exercise routines.
[2] Another Learning Experience: draw the quilting lines on the fabric before you stuff the piece, you numpty.