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.
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.
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.
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.
To date, I have had a hand in writing three songs in the SCA. Two of them are silly. Two have corresponding illumination. One is based on a period poem and requires context. None of them get performed often, in part because I don’t attend many bardic circles, and within those circles, reading the tone of the circle to know what is best to present for the continued enjoyment of the participants/listeners is a challenge in regard to these songs.
So I’m presenting them here, if only so I keep a record of them in one spot.
The first was in answer to the Bard, Scribe, Illuminator challenge at the 2012 Northshield Bardic Madness. The theme was to do with animal puns, so Mistress Orlaith Ballach Inghean Fhlain, Larkin of Schattentor, and I wrote a filk of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic about the Great Bears of Northshield. I apologize for the lighting – this was in the last Fyte, which was the Feast Fyte, and I’d feel bad about doing a new recording without Larkin.
Chorus: (With the number lowering with each iteration) Four Great Bears went out one day To prove for good and all Who was the Greatest of the Bears To Grace a Northshield Hall
Fiskr [Fish] set out at a healthy pace But then he began to flounder
Ia took a breath to prepare But then she found that she lacked consonants [consonance; there is an infamous CD of Ia singing filks]
Skjaldvør [called Wyndreth] had the breeze at her back But the wind went out of her sails
Tarrach began to take the lead But then he met up with a T-Rex [Tarrach was Northshield's second King, and had previously been King of the Middle - and would often sign T. Rex]
The second song is All Griffins Are Girls – A Heraldic Primer, which I wrote with Baroness Katerinka Lvovicha in either 2013 or 2014. She tells a story about helping someone at a Heraldic Consult table with fish heraldry, and to make a fish not look dead and hanging to dry, the attitude needs to be naiant. And, being Northshielders, we latched onto the conceit that Griffins are Girls. The words are here!
You might want to turn the sound up a bit on this one, or you can watch the video of us trying to remember the words and do the motions on the fly at a Bardic Madness post-revel.
That same year, for that same event, I answered a challenge for pieces based on period texts, etc. I chose Yehuda Halevi’s My Heart is in the East. (And I’ll eventually put my hands on the illumination again and upload the image.) I don’t have a recording from the event, but I do have something I recorded with my phone. This is the sad one. This is the one that requires context.
Yehuda Halevi was born c. 1075-1086 in Al-Andalus. He was a physician and philosopher and considered one of the greatest Hebrew poets. Halevi wrote The Kuzari, a pillar of Jewish philosophy, and was part of the “golden age” of Hispano-Jewish culture and life in Granada during the 11th century. He died in 1142, shortly after arriving in Israel. He lived during the entire First Crusade, and much of his poetry is marked by his longing to go to Israel. His text is below – I used severaldifferenttranslations to guide my own adaptation of his verse, in English, to music.
My heart is in the East But I am at the end of the West. How can I savor food, how can it be called pleasing - How can I render my vows and my bonds While Zion lies in fetters And I am in Arab chains?
It would be too easy To leave behind the bounty of Spain - So precious is the dust Of that desolate sanctuary.
Having been likely written at some point either during or after the First Crusade, Halevi’s poem carries a lot of emotional weight. What struck me was the intense, mournful longing, which I tried to bring into the music. Given the continued turmoil in the region, I opt not to sing this song unless asked, so that I can provide the proper context. And since I don’t go to many bardic circles due to having small children, I don’t get asked often at all. And honestly? That’s okay. It’s an emotional song for me, as much as it was good practice in taking existing words and figuring out a tune for them. It doesn’t need to be on any bardic circle “greatest hits” list.
The short answer is yes. An emphatic, eyes slightly wide with incredulity, yes.
YES, you should cite SCAdians, if you:
are basing your work off of theirs;
learned something from them and are using that in your work; and/or
they helped guide your process.
Let’s go backward through that list, shall we? But first – some rules.
For websites, handouts, etc., use modern names in your citations, with SCAdian names in [brackets], or however your citation method of choice handles screen names. But also be mindful that, depending on how you’re going to publish/disseminate your work, you should let the SCAdian know/get permission to cite them and let them approve the citation. This is for safety. If the SCAdian would rather you not use their modern name, abide by their wishes.
If you’re directly quoting, put what you’re quoting in QUOTES and cite where you took the quote from (blog, website, handout, etc). If it’s a paraphrase, still cite where the information came from.
Alright – on to that list!
If you reach out to someone for help with your project, this citation can be informal, but even as such should be included. Example:
I struggled with what sort of finish to use on the underarm seam given the curve. My previous research suggested that [redacted for length]. I reached out to my laurel, Mistress Una Barthsdottir, and she suggested I do a flat-felled seam and make the stitches smaller the nearer they were to the apex of the curve.
I didn’t make this decision on my own. And this is the sort of thing – conversations with others to get suggestions on how to proceed with a project – that you should note in your project journal. Which you have. And which you use. And which you consult when writing your documentation. As an apprentice, I speak with my laurel about most of my projects. You can cite personal communications (inline only, for APA, but you could adapt the citation to your reference list too if you felt rebellious – but check your citation manual of choice) if you feel like the citation needs to be a bit more formal. Example:
Mears, C. [Una Barthsdottir]. (2019, September 20). Phone conversation.
If you find a source via someone else’s research, it doesn’t make you look bad if you cite the other SCAdian as how you found it (such as a blog post or handout) – cite them right along with the source they pointed you to. Example:
I am very thankful to have found Hypatissa Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina’s [modernly Angela L. Costello] work on Roman clothing, and through her Sebesta and Bonfante’s compilation of essays on the topic (2001).
Costello, A. L. [Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina]. (2013, February 13). Fundamentals of Roman dress [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/59611236
Sebesta, J. L. & Bonfante, L. (2001). The world of Roman costume. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Lastly, if you’re basing your work off of someone else’s research, cite their research. I recently tried to make Yuan Dynasty honey lemonade, using Þorfinnr Hróðgeirsson’s recipe and method that he derived from a poem and his knowledge of Chinese cooking. I did absolutely no research or reading on my own for this project, apart from looking at what he did and what he said he’d do differently the next time he made it. So I cited him. And then I reached out to him with questions. So I cited him again. Example:
Story, A. [Þorfinnr Hróðgeirsson]. (2018, April 29). Yuan Dynasty bochet lemonade [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://brewing.alecstory.org/2018/04/yuan-dynasty-bochet-lemonade.html
Story, A. (2019, September 18). Direct message interview.
So yes. Yes. YES. Cite SCAdians. It does not make you look silly. It does not make you look lesser. It makes you look like a member of a community that learns from one another as opposed to one in which people scrabble, scrounge, and steal from one another in an attempt to… I don’t even know what, honestly.
Whether you’re just hanging out field-side for the day or camping for the weekend, coolers are necessary if you want to keep/serve cold beverages or food. But a standard blue/red Igloo/Coleman cooler can be unsightly in an SCA encampment.
Sure, you can make a box cushion/cover for it, but then every time you go to open the cooler, you have to take the cover off. You could paint it, but it’s still going to look like a cooler (though there are some really neat ones out there!)
I’ve seen boxes build around coolers, or boxes built and lined with polystyrene to act like coolers, but that takes a level of woodworking/crafting skill that, as I’ve said throughout this series of posts, might be outside the scope/skillset/resources of folk.
That’s a BYHOLMA chest from Ikea, with two standard styrofoam coolers tucked inside. I didn’t want to use styrofoam, because styrofoam, and found that Igloo is now making a biodegradable cooler, and it’s gotten decent reviews (I got mine at Target for $8).
I already have a chest-type basket that I thought would be big enough, but it is too shallow by an inch or so. (The BYHOLMA measures 72 x 50 x 50 centimeters.) I’m not sure if I want to try and find a big enough chest (do I need another basket chest?), or if the cooler will be fine tucked under the table as is. I think eventually I’ll upgrade my basket, but given that the BYHOLMA (which is no longer available from IKEA) sold for $70, I think I might wait until baskets go on sale at Michaels or Home Goods.
I might go by Home Goods before this weekend to see what they have. Baskets are one of those things.
Second to chairs, tables are essential to your camping/dayshade presence. Just as you need a place to put your body, you need a place to put your stuff – like a cup, or lunch, or a project.
There are all sorts of plansoutthere for trestle tables, but making one of these when you first get started might be a little outside your wheelhouse for various reasons – access to tools, skills to work with those tools/wood, etc.
To fix this, we just need a tablecloth. And yes, you can just get a regular, run-of-the-mill tablecloth to slap on the table and call it good, but if you’re table is a weird shape (like the little folding tray tables) you might prefer a more tailored option than just a swath of fabric.
Tablecloths with box corners won’t slip and slide off your table. You can still give them enough on the sides to cover the legs of your table (and create hidden storage space), or even make a slit for easier access.
Follow the instructions for a box cushion, but make the sides big enough to accomodate the height of your table, and instead of attaching a bottom piece and a zipper, hem the bottom edge of the sides. I’d suggest watching a few different tutorials, but the concept is the same across them all. Cut out a square from each corner equal to the depth of the side + seam allowance, then sew the 2 new sides together – basically a dart to make the corner.
I used the same concept, with an envelope back, to cover the mattress for my cot, and again for what is essentially a bedskirt – all using a cotton sheet set (yes, just one Twin XL fitted sheet that I took the elastic out of and the corresponding flat sheet). That’s three very modern things in my day-camp that are now covered in fabric and look way less modern.
A lot of rectangular things can be covered this way – tables, cots, bins – but I’d not including coolers in this. Why? You need easy and convenient access to a cooler througout the day, and a fabric cover doesn’t allow for that.
Instead, my plan for my cooler at an event where I need it only during the day (fieldside at a tournament) is to use a recyclable cooler and hide it inside my large hinge-top basket. But I’ll talk more about that in another post in this series.
I have two Tang Dynasty skirts made of linen. One is pretty pastel pink-and-purple. The other is kick-you-in-the-face orange.
The pink skirt is a split skirt, meaning that it is two panels pleated to bands with ties that are seamed at the sides, with a gap at the top so that it can be wrapped around the wearer’s waist and tied.
The orange skirt is a single-panel wrap skirt. It’s still a panel pleated to a band, but it is one long panel – long enough to wrap around the wearer 1.5 times, with ties at each end. It’s worn very similarly to a modern wrap skirt.
Here’s a (cued) video showing how to wear both kinds of skirt. (I can’t speak to the two-toned tie method’s period accuracy, since I haven’t seen ties in paintings that look like they are two colors, but it sure looks cool!)
Two ladies on the right side of the table in A Palace Concert appear to have split skirts, perhaps with a secondary skirt worn beneath. The lower lady, wearing a pale pink printed shirt and a pale skirt with a green tie. Deciphering what we are seeing here is a little rough, not only due to the degradation of the painting. It is possible that the split in the paler fabric of the skirt is instead the hanging piece of the lady’s skirt tie, but given the position at her underarm and the way the skirt folds move around it makes me question that theory.
Like the lady below her, the flute-player’s pale skirt is divided at the side to reveal a triangle of red fabric with some sort of design. She is also wearing a red pibo, but the shawl clearly flows down her back and across her chest as opposed to under her arm. Even if it was tucked inside her skirt’s waistband, which we occasionally seein other images, the fact that we can see it would still stand as evidence of a two-panel skirt.
In addition to A Palace Concert, ladies on the north wall of Mogao Cave 107 are wearing two skirts, the top-most of which has a very deep split.
So to the question of which is more period, there might be a distinction to be made between the two styles of skirts based on region or a narrower time period, given the fluctuation of fashion during the Tang Dynasty, but I haven’t yet dug that far to find/make that distinction. Cave 107 is dated to late Tang (827-859), while the A Palace Concert is anonymous, making it more difficult to date.
I (usually) wear linen skirts at events where I am chasing small children, because small children don’t understand that sticky applesauce or banana hands on Mama’s silk is a bad idea. But I learned something about linen skirts when I wore the orange one at Known World Costume and Fiber Arts in Georgia this summer – single panel wrap linen skirts with linen ties do not want to stay up.
This is possibly and very likely due to the weight of the linen and the way the linen-on-linen ties act. Silk is stronger, and has a bit of tooth compared to linen that helps it grip. My very first Tang Dynasty skirt had bias cut silk ribbon ties, but they weren’t heavy enough and were too slick to do the job, so my subsequent skirts had either poly-satin ribbon ties (which is fine in a pinch) or ties I made myself out of fabric tubes or folded and stitched silk.
The pink, two-panel split skirt has never slipped the same way that the orange one did. I think it’s because the weight of the skirt is split between two sets of ties. Also – in my experience, if you want to embrace the cleavage-y aspect of Tang Dynasty clothing, go with silk. My linen skirts do better if they sit at the top of your chest, so that your breasts can help support the fabric, as opposed to across the middle.
The width of the ties make a difference too. I’ve noticed that my big band skirt that my Laurel, Mistress Una, made for me, tends to sag a bit at the sides. I think that if I replace the poly-satin ribbon ties with wider, silk ties (at least as wide as the band itself), I can fix this issue. As it is, the narrower ties are secured at the top of the band, meaning that the bottom of the band sags.
If you compare the photo above to the photo below, where I am wearing a skirt with a thinner waistband, the silk ties are in better proportion to the waistband, and do a much better job at… well, their job. (These are both two-panel skirts, by the way).
The next few events on my docket are sans children, so I think I’ll tackle the Sartor skirt first in terms of fixing stuff. Then I can figure out how to best turn a the orange wrap skirt into a split skirt, so that I can wear it around a toddler without fear of malfunction.
Zhou, X.; Gao, C. (1987). 5000 years of Chinese costumes. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press. p. 123. ↩
Chen, B. Y. (2013). Dressing for the times: Fashion in Tang Dynasty China (618-907). (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Academic Commons. (doi: 10.7916/D8KK9B6D). p. 92. ↩
It never fails. I go to an event that has either camping or daytime field-side pavilions where folks are lounging, or both, and I start to obsess about my own kit. And by “kit” I mean the various bits, bobs, and not-worn trappings that make an SCA experience magical.
I’ve bitten the bullet this fall and commissioned a friend to make some silk banners for me, and I have plans to make a canvas day-shade. My husband is making me a chair. I dipped my toes into research on glass in 8th century China to figure out what kind of pitcher to buy to decant Yuan Dynasty lemon bochet into. (Psst. I totally found one and I can’t wait until it gets here.)
Last year at Meridian Grand Tournament, I focused on getting the furnishing inside my pop-up canopy decent. I bought an outdoor rug with a passable pattern when it went on End-Of-Season clearance at Lowes, as well as some patio furniture cushions – both red. The cushions were big enough to work as floor cushions – and while most Tang Dynasty seating was, to the best of my knowledge, stools and other low-to-the-ground platforms, cushions were a quick and cheaper way to make my space inviting for others to come and sit with me. I also cut a high density foam mattress topper down to size to fit my army cot and swathed the whole thing in red sheets so that I could have a couch – not dissimilar to the platforms we see in variouspaintingsthroughoutChinesehistory. My husband made me a table. All in all, it was a decent set-up – and I’m still tweaking it.
Do small things. You will gain confidence with these accomplishments, and be able to take on bigger and bigger tasks. It’s not quite “fake it ’til you make it” but it is in that same garden – only with a better root.
So what small things can you do? More importantly, how do you do them?
The SCA has a tendency to feel like you’re picking a “lane” to travel down – particularly when it comes to the Arts and Sciences vs. Fighting. If you do both, as several of my close friends do, and you seem to be paying more attention to one than the other, there are those who will interpret your split attention as not being “serious” about the pursuit of the thing you aren’t spending time on at that moment. Which, frankly, is a crock and a half. But that’s another post.
A&S and Fighting are like apples and oranges – they’re different, but they’re both fruit. Most groups hold a weekly fighter practice (sometimes more than once a week) that lasts anywhere from 1 1/2 to 4 hours. In my experience, groups that have an A&S or Project Night only hold them on a monthly basis.
I’ve talked about balance before on this blog, and how hard it can be to balance SCA projects, events, and goals with your modern life when you work, have small children, etc., and that the modern life always, always, always comes before the SCAdian stuff. This balance and my schedule makes it difficult for me to do things like the 100 Days of A&S Challenge – it just doesn’t work for me and my life at the moment.
While chatting with a friend who is prepping for war this week, it hit me that we don’t carve out time to “practice” our A&S the same way that fighters make a point to be at practice every week. So why not? How hard could it be to carve out 1 1/2-2 hours, once a week, to focus on your A&S? Read that book you just bought. Work on the project that’s collecting dust. Tell the people in your life that every Tuesday night from 6:30 – 8 PM, you’re doing this thing. If your local group has their A&S/Project Night monthly, consider making your “A&S Practice” the same day of the week and time, so you can join in.
Depending on your A&S, you could invite others to join you, as a weekly project night. A good chunk of my A&S time is me with my nose in a book taking notes, so that’s not really conducive to company or people chatting, so do what works best for you. The point is to practice. Practice your research. Practice your craft. Practice teaching (writing blog posts, articles for your newsletter, handouts to share, making videos etc.).
A&S is a skill – both the researching and the doing – that can be honed just like fighting.
This is an open invitation to SCAdians who have Non-Christian personas to aid me in an on-going project.
I hope to feature a series of articles here on my website – Ouyang’s Desk – regarding the portrayal of religion in SCA personas/research. This includes garments, accessories, names, bardic, and other outward active portrayals, as well as research that might be presented for display.
I am interested in showcasing what are modernly minority
religions, whether or not they were minorities in period or in a person’s
region of interest. The fact that they are minorities now means that the
majority of people do not have a good working knowledge of that religion and its
symbols and other indicators. I see this primarily with Islam, Judaism, Hinduism,
and Buddhism, but it could also be applied religions considered “pagan” by
period, Christian authorities.
For example – while interfaith marriage in Judaism was historically frowned upon (as it was in many religions), the concept of being “ethnically Jewish” is a Nazi concept, stemming from historic antisemitism (see the Nuremberg Race Laws). To assume that all Jews everywhere in period were the same is erroneous and problematic – Judaism in period, in terms of foods, dress, and culture, was not a monolith. Middle Eastern Jews, Spanish Jews, English Jews, even Jews in northwestern China had the same religion, but differed in terms of dress, music, food, and other aspects of culture that were informed by their ethnicity and region.
There is also thought and discussion to be had regarding the
portrayal of a culture wherein which the dominant religion is not one that the individual
personally practices or adheres to. Religious practice also changes over time –
so someone who identifies with the same religion as their persona is going to observe
differently than their persona would have.
Lastly, in terms of oppression and other issues, how do we balance
respect for history with recreating “only the best” of the middle ages, when events
and issues like pogroms, inquisitions, and the Crusades, mean something
entirely different for non-Christian personas?
Please consider this an open invitation for you to share your thoughts on this subject with a wider audience. I’d ask that you include information about your persona (SCA name with any titles, time period, region, etc.). Ideally, articles would be 500-2,000 words in length, and include citations if necessary. If you’re interested, I encourage you to reach out so we can start working together to make the SCA a more informed and inclusive experience for everyone.
If you have any questions or would like to contribute, I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m 34. Being 34 is pretty great, considering. I have a good job in my field of study, solid social groups orbiting my place of worship, hobbies, and workplace, a fantastic spouse, and two beautiful and intelligent children.
From an SCA perspective, I feel like I’m on track with the rest of my age group. I’ve served as a Greater Kingdom Officer (Parchment), helped foster community growth in both of my areas of interest (Sinology and scribal arts), teach every chance I get both at events and online via posts and PMs, been inducted into the GOA Order/Order of High Merit for Arts and Sciences (Bridgit’s Flame and Velvet Owl, respectively), etc. I’m not burning the candle at both ends in the “rising star” or “mover and shaker” style per se, but I think I’m carrying my weight in terms of the care and feeding of SCAdians.
The thing is? It’s hard.
It’s not hard in the sense that I have to exert a great amount of effort. It’s mostly little things here and there, or relatively short, frantic pushes toward a deadline. I don’t feel overburdened by the effort.
It’s not hard because people are hard to deal with. I am incredibly thankful to have an amazing support system, so that in the rare case where I come up against someone who breaks Wheaton’s Law, I have people I can turn to for help, even if it is just a hug.
It’s hard because I have to balance SCAdian-hood with Life. We always say “real life comes first.” Because it does. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t this overwhelming pressure to be involved and help direct the course of our community. Pressure to be active and present and available to new people. Pressure to volunteer to judge or teach, or to enter something in a faire, or to make progress on your project, or to donate something. Most of this pressure, at least for me, is an internal response to external stimuli. My apprentice contract stipulates that I need to teach, enter a faire, or “share my skills” with both my kingdom and the Known World at least four times a year. It also states:
Ouyang is required to find balance between studies and family life so that the former does not overtake the latter, as is virtuous.
It’s that balance that’s hard. It’s knowing that I need to have garb sewn for my daughter before the event that’s a week away, but that my son really wants me to play dinosaurs or legos with him.
It’s that balance of only going to one event a month, and then only if that event isn’t farther than 2 hours away so that I can easily day-trip – and if it is longer, making sure that my (incredibly capable and amazing partner and co-parent) husband doesn’t have something else on the schedule and is okay with me not taking the smallest child with me on an overnight.
It’s the balance between feeling like I am being generous or selfish with my time, depending on how I spend it.
It’s the balance of managing my finances so that I have enough to spend on the hobbies, projects, and interests that bring me joy (including event travel/costs) without shirking my financial responsibilities to my modern household.
It’s the balance of not letting myself get so mired in a research question, Thread of Drama, or other online interaction that I keep my nose buried in my phone while grocery shopping with the family.
It’s a balance of spending time at an event with my children who just want to run and play versus doing what I want to do – teach, attend a class, volunteer, etc.
Are these things that people younger and older than me deal with? Things that non-SCAdians deal with? Things that SCAdians who play as a family deal with? Probably. But I can’t speak to those experiences. All I know is that my age, the perceived expectations associated with my 8-year tenure in the SCA and my chosen journey, and the fact that my husband does not share this hobby makes this feel like a heavy weight.
And I wanted to say to others who also feel this weight – I see you. I don’t know what the answer or the fix is, but I see you.