Ethics and Peer-like Qualities

“And do nothing that you would not like to see him do, ‘Cause that monster in the mirror, he just might be you.” – Grover

I started playing in the SCA in Northshield, and one of the pieces of the standard peerage ceremony there is the Peerage Admonishments/Admonitions – a listing of qualities that a peer should possess. Usually, these are read by members of the populace, popping up among the assemblage to read from a small slip of paper.

When the person who got me into the SCA, Mistress Orlaith, was elevated to the laurel, Master Ingus arranged them into a chant which still brings tears to my eyes.

Recorded by the most excellent Viscountess/Mistress Elashava bas Riva

A Peer must seek excellence in all endeavors, not for their own
good, but for the good of others.
A Peer must always seek justice, truth tempered with mercy.
A Peer must remain loyal to the people and the ideals they
choose to live by.
A Peer must always defend their kingdom, their family and
those who depend upon them.
A Peer must have the courage to sacrifice for the precepts and
people they value.
A Peer must have faith in their beliefs.
A Peer values the contributions of others and does not boast of
their own accomplishments.
A Peer must be generous as far as their resources allow.
A Peer recognizes that true nobility arises from the journey, not
the destination.

Northshield Boke of Ceremonies

There is no official “list” of peer-like qualities that any kingdom or peer can point to that I am aware of. My understanding is that, rooted in the concept of chivalric/medieval Christian virtues, these qualities are, for the most part, basic human decency – qualities that we see in numerous cultures, reflected in religious and and other ideological writings. It is the fact that these qualities transcend culture that I want to shed light on.

There are a number of lists of chivalric virtues, or virtues from the medieval Christian church, which we could hold up to the SCA’s nebulous list of peer-like qualities/virtues to find an analogue, but I want to go beyond the Christian Normative view of these and look at other faiths and teachings within period to find how the SCA virtues align with those philosophies.

I might, in future, write a series of posts looking at various concepts in Judaism (my religion), what commonalities can be found in the teachings of Confucius, and how PLQs are a reflection of both.

Rather than wax philosophical about this any further, I think I’ll just put gather up quotes and citations for us all to ruminate on.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Hillel the Elder (110 BCE – 10 CE), Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

“Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

Confucius (551 BCE–479 BCE), The Analects, Section 15, No. 24

“Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.”

Taittiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli, Eleventh Anuvaka)

“And do nothing that you would not like to see him do,
‘Cause that monster in the mirror, he just might be you.”

Grover (1970 CE – ), The Monster in the Mirror, 1989

May 2020

I have been trying to write at least one blog post a month for awhile now. I had played with several ideas for May 2020, including how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected me, my research, and my creative drive.

On May 17, I was invited into Their Meridian Majesties Boru and Fianna’s etheral court to be recognized as one of the Gulf Wars That Wasn’t A&S Champions, and then later was put on vigil for the Order of the Laurel. May has been a foggy cloud of love and list-making. I’m humbled and honored to be invited into the Laurelete (Laureate?).

I have a myriad of notes that need to be turned into posts – from how to draft three different necklines to make four different Tang patterns based on the shirt, to how to draft a yuanlingpao (圆领袍, “round-collared robe”). But I don’t have anything ready to post before the end of the month in *checks watch* thirteen hours and four minutes.

<3

The Balance of Accuracy and Accessibility

Silk fabric during the Tang Dynasty was, to the best of my knowledge, 24″ wide. 1 2 This is not a common width – I have only found it once, and it was a very expensive reproduction of a period fabric. Because of this, we, as a community, accept that most people are going to make garments out of fabric that is either 45 or 58-60″ wide – the standard commercial widths. It is what is accessible, even if it isn’t accurate. The same is true for printed motifs as opposed to woven – while it may be more accurate to use a woven (jin) silk for a particular garment, accurate motifs are difficult to source (locating them, price point, international shipping, etc.). Better to block print a design that you know is accurate on a fiber/weave you know is correct than settle for an inaccurate woven design with questionable fiber.

I don’t use period cosmetics – I apply modern cosmetics in a period style. I have done research on what materials were used in Tang Dynasty cosmetics, and I am aware of similar research by other SCAdians. I choose to use modern cosmetics to achieve a period style due to the broader accessibility of modern cosmetics – literally anyone can go into a drugstore or grocery store and buy what I use, as opposed to struggling to source various ingredients and going through the arduous process of making the cosmetics in their kitchen, then storing them. When you only go to one event every few months or so, period cosmetics – which have to be made in batches and have a much shorter shelf life – aren’t a reasonable investment of money or time for practical use. I’m also married to a Metallurgist with a background in Chemical Engineering and who used to do FDA compliance work who makes lots of faces when I start doing stovetop experiments – and has vetoed some as Household Safety Officer.

There are still some choices that can be made here – like drugstore brand cosmetics vs. bare mineral/organic/etc., but affordability comes into play again. Cosmetics are the sort of thing where I wouldn’t expect someone to buy a separate set of products for the SCA when what they might use for modern life will do the trick just fine. A comparison might be interesting, but again – cosmetics, even modern ones, are an investment of not only the product itself but also tools and time to learn how to apply them.

One of my goals with sharing what I learn about Tang Dynasty material culture is to make it as accessible as possible. It’s more fun when other people play with you, after all. And the more people that are learning about a thing, the more brains are engaged, the higher the chances get that you figure out The Thing that has been eluding someone’s understanding.

Should we strive for authenticity? Of COURSE WE SHOULD – within the balance of accessibility. When I was sourcing stones for Lady Mi’s necklace, I couldn’t find turquoise for a price that was in my budget – I have a household to help upkeep and two small kids to help provide for, because I am a Responsible Adult. So I used glass, which is a reasonable substitute, and a material that artisans would have had access to in period.

The research element here is key – as it is with anything Tang Dynasty related, in my book, because it is not a culture I hold any personal identifying claim to – finding an appropriate, accessible alternative can require just as much research as finding out what was used in period. But that research is worth it, because you’re building your case and helping others down the path who come behind you. It’s work worth doing, and it’s work worth doing well.

This is why there is a section on most guided documentation forms (and why when we counsel people on how to write their documentation) to specifically address substitutes. It’s 100% okay if you can’t use exactly what they would have used in period – just explain what you used instead and why you made that choice. If it’s reasonable – find-ability, affordability, safety, etc.

There is a difference between pushing for accuracy and gatekeeping, just as there is a difference between thoughtfully using accessible materials and being lazy with your research.

As it is with so, so many things – it is about finding the proper balance.

Further Information:

  1. Burnham, D. K. (1997). Cut my cote. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.
  2. Wilkinson, E. (Ed.). (2018). Chinese history: A new manual (5th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard-Yenching Institute.

The Rock Crystal Necklace of Lady Mi – A Maker’s Diary

This post is a result of my cursory research of Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace, exhibited by the National Museum of China in 2019, and my attempts to recreate it. I don’t plan on ever entering this necklace in competition, but I wanted to share this process as it shines light on how one can recreate something that looks period without using 100% period techniques or materials – and, mainly, on a budget. I’ll link to all the items I purchased for this project, as well as the sources used. Special thanks to Minamoto no Hideaki for helping translate.

Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace, on display at the National Museum of China in their Datang Fenghua Exhibition (大唐风华特展, January 2019). Click to enlarge.

Lady Mi, consort of the Fujun official (辅君夫人米氏, 685 AD-755 AD) was buried in what would become the suburbs of X’ian, Shaanix Province. Her tomb was discovered in 2002. She was buried wearing a rock crystal necklace with amethyst and turquoise drops and three blue beads, all strung on silk. The silk had degraded, and archeologists had to search for the beads that had scattered around her neck.

They found 92 crystal beads, 2 amethysts, 2 turquoise, and 3 blue beads. The amethyst and turquoise were set with gold bails.

Continue reading “The Rock Crystal Necklace of Lady Mi – A Maker’s Diary”

Doing All The Things

I’m not a metalworker. I’m not a lapidarist.

I’m not a very good cook, or skilled embroiderer, or impactful bard, or a leatherworker, or a cobbler, or a butcher, or a candlestick maker. I can bake with a recipe and a reliable oven, and it’s usually edible.

I play with textiles and fiber, I can pattern something, I can sew something, I can make fabric do stuff if I stare and poke at it long enough.

But really – I’m a researcher and a crafter.

And you know what?

That’s okay.

It’s okay to not be All The Things or Do All The Things in Arts and Sciences. I’m a dabbler, because I like to jump down rabbit holes and poke around for a little bit. Sometimes I go rather deep. Sometimes I just stick my head in. But lately, my “how far down” has been tempered by the following:

  1. I have limited finances.
  2. I have limited time.
  3. I do not have the storage/workspace to acquire new sets of tools specifically for new materials.

You do not have to be a one-person workshop for all the things you want to have for your kit. Skilled artisans, guilds, and merchants existed throughout periods, regions, and cultures. It’s okay to buy the thing, or the pieces half-made, or whatever you’re comfortable with. It’s okay to have some aspects of your kit that are more modern in construction than others because you don’t have the resources/ability to make/ability to purchase 100% the real deal.

Case in point: Jewerly

Be it hair bits and bobs, bracelets, or necklaces – I’m not a jeweler. I’m not a lapidarist. I’m not a metalworker. But I can take bit A and bit B, both stamped out of copper and shined up to look like gold and either glue or wire them together. I can use resin to cast a cabochon that looks like a gemstone or agate, pop it in a bezel, and then glue that on. I can buy findings for a Sui Dynasty era necklace that is Bling with a Capital B and pop some real stones into it, but I can’t afford to spend over $100 on actual freshwater pearls to finish it off – so resin will do. And that’s okay.

You Do Not Need To Break The Bank To Have This Hobby.

You Do Not Need To Have Every Set Of Skills.

A particular set of skills will do just fine. The rest can be “store-bought.”

Thank you for coming to my personal pep/TED talk.

Sleeping Beauty

Every year on my birthday, I try to watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

I’m not sure exactly when I started doing this. I watched it a lot as a child, again, usually on or around my birthday. I was in love with the colors and images, the Foley art behind the hoofbeats, and pretty much everything about it. Aurora was secondary (though I did love her final dress – and yes, blue is best, and that’s not just because Merryweather is amazing, thank you). I adored Maleficent (haven’t seen the Jolie films and don’t really want to) and Samson (Prince Philip’s horse, who I contend is an ancestor of Maximus).

Looking back, Sleeping Beauty is what hooked me on medievalism and fantasy. The style (especially the backgrounds) of Sleeping Beauty were inspired by medieval tapestries, and there’s an element of illuminated manuscripts to them as well. My very first forays into the SCA were scribal, with plans to pen and illustrate period fairytales, which would ultimately be bound together. I’m still a fan of the weird and rare static bardic art of books and stories.

I’m thinking about all this again recently because my birthday is coming up was yesterday, and I‘ll once again curled up on my couch, maybe this year with my kids to watch Sleeping Beauty.

In 2011, Shoomla created a digital art series reimagining Disney Princesses in “historical” clothing. Buzzfeed followed up a few years later in 2015 with an article doing the same with models. Both are… questionable at best. And since all the best/most fun projects are fueled by spite, I decided to try and try and create Period Princesses.

The plan is to track down the earliest written (because oral would be super difficult to nail down) versions of various tales that later became Disney princesses – to start with, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Cinderella.

This is the kind of research project that bubbles in the back of my brain like a pot roast in a crock pot. I occasionally check on it, spend an hour or so digging for more resources which I skim and save to a file, then go on about my day. The most work I’ve done on it was recreating a pair of Han Dynasty shoes1 which were inspired by Ye Xian’s story – arguably the earliest known/written version of Cinderella.

A period Sleeping Beauty is a substantially messier, though [TW: SA, r*pe]. In the original stories, our heroine has even less agency than she does in the Disney film and is actively victimized. Still, it’s an opportunity to not only research 14th century clothing from the Low Countries (but maybe 15th century Burgundian because the origin is sketchy) but also to shed light on feminist issues in period stories.

Oh, and yeah, that dress is gonna be blue.

  1. I have a second version of this project which I will someday upload the documentation for – as soon as I find the digital copy of it on my laptop…

Citing Museum Objects

You found a really awesome object in a museum that you want to include in your documentation. That’s amazing! Good for you, finding that thing!

It doesn’t matter if it is an object, a painting, a sculpture, or some other piece of art – there is a way to cite it. I’m going to be looking at APA in this post, since it’s my citation method of preference (only I push my parentheticals into footnotes because I prefer them). I encourage you to look at your citation method of choice to see how to cite museum (or art) objects. If you run into problems, leave a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to help, or join us over on Cite Your Sh*t.

The basic layout for your citation is this:

Artist. (Date). Name of object. [What it is]. Name of Museum, Location. Retrieved from: link

For the artist, use their surname and first initial, separated by a comma. Here’s an example.

Limosin, L. (1556). Henri d’Albret (1503-55), King of Navarre. [Enamel on copper]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Retrieved from: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/209063

If a piece of art (or an object) does not have a listed author, use this format: (followed by an example)

Name of object. (Date). [What it is]. Name of Museum, Location. Retrieved from: link

The Lewis Chessmen. (c. 1150-1175). [Chess pieces carved from walrus ivory]. British Museum, London. Retrieved from: https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=6211&partId=1&object=23520

As with all citations, the key is to give your reader enough information that they can find this. The URL is very important if you can point to the piece online, but if you’re taking your own pictures in a museum, this information is also important. I struggle with images taken at Chinese museums posted online that have no corroborating information regarding where they are from, let alone where they are currently housed.

For information on a label, use this format for your citation:

Label title [Museum exhibit label]. (n.d.). Name of Museum. City, State.

Since we’re talking about writing for the SCA, I’d say it’s reasonable to mention when you visited, or at least what exhibit the item was part of. This will take into account traveling exhibitions, which are often listed with their dates on a museum’s website long after they’ve left.

Happy documenting!

Updating Files and Plans

I’ve added two new files to the Documentation page on the site – my handout on Tang Dynasty Games (taught at Magna Faire 2019) and my documentation on the banbi I entered at Magna Faire, Menhir, and Midwinter A&S.

I’ve got plans to revise the banbi documentation for publication over on the Tang Dynasty Garment Construction section, so you have a more easily accessible “how to” on this garment.

In My Sewing Bag: Socks! At Meridian Grand Tournament, I cut out and stitched my first stab at a Tang Dynasty sock, but it was too tight across the bridge. So at Menhir, I recut with a bit more room there and am currently seaming them up for another try-on.

Painted silk socks from the Astana Cemetery (Tang Dynasty).
Painted silk socks from Astana, in Zaho, F. (2012). Silks in the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties. In D. Kuhn, (Ed.), Chinese Silks (pp. 203-257). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
p. 246.

There is an extant pair of Tang Dynasty socks from the Astana Cemetery, and we have a bunch of socks that date to the 8th century in the Shōsōin Treasure House. I’ve pinned a bunch, and I’m working on separating out my currently very disorganized Tang Dynasty Pinterest board into sections – with the socks being the first go-round.

And before you eyebrow at me, no, this is not my “check it off the list” post for February. I’m working on two – how to cite museum objects and do’s and don’ts for contacting libraries/museums/academics with questions.

Bye for now! <3

In Defense of A&S Competitions

Every now and again in a discussion about A&S regarding how one can share their skills, be seen, passively teach, and get feedback, the subject of A&S Competitions arises. It always starts with something along the lines “oh, but I don’t like competitions,” followed by all the reasons why. The “competition” aspect of it. The “judging” aspect of it. In many cases, the person had a negative experience with a competition, and are now shy of every entering one again.

I’m not going to try and rebut all those things. Feelings are feelings. What I want to do here is share my own experience both as an entrant and a judge in A&S Competitions. I’ve entered in competitions in both Northshield and Meridies, and helped as a judge in the latter. I can’t speak to how A&S Competitions work in other kingdoms.

I’m writing this for people who aren’t sure if they should enter, but I’m also writing it for judges – because we need to always remember and keep in mind what it is like to sit on the other side of that table.

One more caveat regarding the “competition” aspect of things. Yes, some kingdoms (like Meridies) have “regional” and “kingdom” labels for their competitions, and rules about how often you can enter the same thing. Yes, there are competitions at big war-events (Gulf, Pennsic, etc.) which are used to determine War Points. In this context, an A&S Competition is a lot like a Science or County Fair. You enter your project in a lower level, then progress up until you get to State (Kingdom), then Nationals (War). But this is such a small sliver of what A&S Competitions are or can be, that I don’t really want to address it (nor do I have any real experience with it), so we’re going to acknowledge it (in this paragraph) and then set it to one side.

So, why do I like A&S Competitions?

My hand-sewn Banbi at Magna Faire (2019), image courtesy of Mistress Ellen DeLacey

For me, an A&S Competition is a framework in which I can get specific feedback about various aspects of a project – my research, execution, substitutions, and scope – without feeling like I am monopolizing someone’s time. It’s a way for me to get actionable comments on my work – things I can go and fix – as opposed to “oh, that’s neat!” Yes, there is a number associated with those categories, but personally, my reptile brain loves a number. If that’s not you, I still encourage you to put your work out as a display and try to arrange a time to meet with someone at the event to discuss it with you.

It’s also a way to passively teach. At Magna Faire (2019), I put my equipment for my Tang Dynasty Games class in for display, so that it wouldn’t just sit in a bag the rest of the event. Also, that way people got to learn about games even if they weren’t able to come to the class. Win-win!

Yes, anytime you put your stuff out there for someone else to view and comment on, it can be scary. But I promise you – the only person you are in competition with is yourself. And while that perfect score is something my reptile/completionist brain loves (and received at Menhir 2020! Eek!), it’s still just a number given by people on a day, subject to all sorts of variables.

When it comes to judging, as both a judge and an entrant, I 100% recommend sitting down with your judges during your time slot. You get the chance to talk to people about your entry, answer any questions, and offer clarification for confusing points. And take notes on this! Yes, the judges will write down comments for you on their form, but taking your own notes on things that come up (maybe that need a bit more clarification or fleshing out) can be very useful later once you’re out of the post-event haze.

Judges want to learn. We want to geek out with you about your project. We want to help you grab the next rung in the proverbial project ladder to make your Thing even cooler than it already is. We’re cheering you on! Are there scary, mean, or intimidating judges? Sure, because we’re people. But that’s also why I suggest face-to-face. And if that’s still scary, ask someone (your Laurel, if you have one, or a friend) to sit with you during judging to be some emotional support. If someone asks why they’re there, be honest. Sometimes someone who has a sharp edge doesn’t realize it is sharp until someone says “OW” loud enough for them to hear.

It’s also important to have a network of support for your A&S – people you know well and who know you well, who can give you honest feedback without being mean. People who want to see you do well, so they will let you know what you can do to improve. Sometimes this is a single person (your Laurel, perhaps) or a group of people standing in your corner and cheering you on while also helping you get better. These are the people who you can check in with before and after a judging session so that you’re not left gutted and raw.

That being said – JUDGES. Read documentation – and ask for it ahead of time if you want more time with it. Talk to the entrant – encourage face-to-face judging in your kingdom if you don’t do it already. Understand that even negative feedback can be given in such a way that it encourages and builds up the entrant rather than tearing them down and making them regret entering at all.

I encourage you to take the leap and enter a competition. It’s a great way not only to improve your work but to share it. Sure, they’re not for everyone, but neither do they deserve the bad wrap they often get.

Knowing vs. Being Skilled – Go

As I have been making notes and brain maps and other such things on Chivalric/Christian virtues, Admonitions of Peerage, Judaic ethical concepts, and the Five Constants of Confucianism, I’ve been thinking a bit about peerages in general.

Remember this bit of Corpora?

They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.

SCA Governing Documents, VIII.A.1.g. [Source]

See that! CHESS!

Nobody said you had to be good at chess. Just knowledgeable and, well, practiced. I’ve never been a good chess player. I’m bad at that sort of spatial reasoning, and I have a hard time thinking several moves ahead. I enjoy chess, but as a casual player.

But as someone who has spent the last four-ish years eye-deep in the Tang Dynasty, playing chess doesn’t really fit. But playing Go does! And Go is pretty much chess. It’s about territory control and capturing enemy pieces to score points.

And I’m not good at it.

There are some excellent videos out there that walk you through the basics of a Go game and can help you wrap your head around the concepts. But understanding how a game is played and being a “good player” are two very different things.

We played Go in the Extra-European Salon at the Meridian Grand Tournament in September, and I was so very thankful that someone who was much more knowledgeable about the game helped me think through moves and played a few games with us. He recommended using puzzles to help hone your skill. I feel like I’d have to do a lot of puzzles to hammer the trickier concepts into my head, but hey – that’s Go.

There is also a free app that I have played now and again, but I’m still heavily reliant on the hint button. [Here is a list of iOS apps.]

This is one of those things that I’ll get better with in time, which means making an effort to play a bit on my phone every day, or carting around my 9×9/13×13 board and bags of stones. Maybe I’ll make a small 9×9 board on a piece of fabric and bug people at events to play with me. Maybe.

Throwing arrows at a pot is a different kind of fun, and totally a worthy and desirable skill in the upper echelons of the Tang Dynasty. (Psst. You can see a pot with its arrows in the back of a scene of scholars playing Go with Li Wei painted on a screen. But it’s a game of skill, not strategy. And involves more wine.

I’m working on some class notes for Tang Dynasty Games, which I’ll be teaching at Magna Faire – hope to see you there!