Post-Elevation/Holiday Break

Hey, everybody –

I’m allowing myself to take the month of December “off.” Since my elevation mid-November, I’ve shifted my focus to art for my kids and myself. With the holidays upon us (including a kiddo birthday), I’m going to put my energy into my family.

I will be teaching a survey of Tang Dynasty Poetry at Virtual Magna Faire, and I will eventually get the various posts re: my vigil and elevation clothing and details finished and published.

But now is the time for family, food, and (COVID appropriate) festivities.

May the lights shine warm and bright for you and yours.

-Ouyang

Socks, of the Un-Fancy Variety

I’ve been contemplating Tang Dynasty socks for about a year now, and earlier this summer I finally knocked out a pair that fit me. I did my best to measure my foot in order to get the right size, looking at extant socks from the 8th century (and prior) and Seong Myeong Su’s instructions for Beoseon Socks (Korean).

My first few attempts ended up being too small to wear comfortably, particularly around the bridge of my foot.

Treasure Details - Shosoin - Imperial Household Agency
Pair of socks for Fuefuki (piper) player of Kuregaku (dance and music), No. 75, in the Shosoin Repository. Made of nishiki (colorful patterned weave silk) on purple ground. Lined with white plain weave silk.

The design of the sock is simple enough, with the top seam of the sock cut on the bias, a split at back of the ankle, and a pair of ties to secure the sock on the foot. The Shosoin Repository has two styles of socks – some shorter, and some taller socks presumably intended to be worn with boots. My plan is to wear these with my elevation shoes, since I need a thicker sock to make my boots fit.

I cut my socks out of lightweight linen and used a backstitch to sew the two pieces together, right-sides out. I turned down the top edge and the edges of the ankle split and sewed them with a slip stitch. I trimmed the seams and turned the wrong-side out and ironed the sock before stitching the seam again to enclose it. Since the seam runs down the middle of my foot, I wanted to make sure it was adequately protected from wear.

I made the ties the same way I made the ties for my banbi, only smaller, and attached them the same way as well.

Finished socks with ties.

Crowing Rooster Pillows

I hesitated when Countess Laurel Gwen, Meridies, put out the call for participants in a medieval effigy project. My concerns about my own participation were related to cultural appropriation – because I’d be not only showcasing the material culture of a culture that I have no personal ties to, and which my own ethnicity/nationality (White American whose ancestors immigrated from Europe before the Revolutionary War) have a history of marginalizing, but also recreating an image of that culture’s burial practices. After some research and reassurance, I decided to go ahead.

Enter the roosters.

The 鸡鸣枕, ji ming zhen, or “crowing rooster pillow” is often seen in Chinese burials from the SCA period. The Yingpan man’s head rests on one, and we have examples of these pillows from the Eastern Han Dynasty through the Tang Dynasty. I had decided to try and stick to the Astana finds in Turpan (link goes to an image of one of the mummies with might be a reconstructed pillow), so I knew I had to make a rooster pillow.

Since this was a side project while I was (and am) prepping for my vigil and elevation, I didn’t dive as deep as I eventually will into this particular item and use in Han Chinese death practices during the Tang Dynasty. I dug around and looked at images and tried to recreate something that looked and functioned like what I saw, using materials and methods I knew to be known and used in that period. (Sadly, this appears to be one of those topics that doesn’t have any good English-language articles/write-ups, which means the research will be slow-going.)

The extant pillows I can find vary in shape, but all have a similar silhouette – two heads, joined pushmi-pullyu style onto one body. Many of the extant pillows have coxcombs and waddles, though some do not. It’s difficult to say if these smaller pieces of silk were absent, or just deteriorated and separated from the main body of the pillow.

 The Ming Pillow of the Eastern Han Dynasty unearthed from the Niya Husband and Wife Tomb in Minfeng County in 1959 (pictures provided by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum)
A pillow from the Eastern Han Dynasty, unearthed from the Niya husband and wife Tomb in Minfeng County in 1959 (picture by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Museum).
A crowing rooster pillow from the Jin Dynasty (266-420 CE).

I still have some of the 24″ wide brocade I used for my banbi, so I decide to use some of it for my rooster. After sketching out a basic shape, adjusting for stuffing deterioration, I cut out two pieces from the brocade for the sides of the rooster, and a third gusset piece for the bottom, since so many appear to be able to sit flat. This also allows for more stuffing to be put into the pillow.

I sewed the pieces together with a backstitch, and used some green felted wool for the comb, held within the seam. I also made two tassels out of yellow silk embroidery floss and inserted it so that it would hang from the end of the beak, like some of the extants show. After it was sewn up, I turned it right-side out and ironed it. I have what feels like a bottomless bag of Tunis wool that was given to me years ago, which I used to stuff the pillow. Once stuffed, I turned in the edges of the opening and stitched it closed.

After the pillow aspect of the rooster was done, I focused on embellishment. My rooster needed eyes and a waddle. Going off of the Jin Dynasty extant, I used yellow silk and jade beads for the eyes, and yellow silk and green silk for the waddle, which were half circle pieces.

The finished pillow.

This was a fun project, because aside from the green wool (I don’t have really any wool), everything I used was already in my supply/scraps bin – and most of it was scraps. The whole thing came together in only a couple of days, and if I had chosen to start it on a weekend, I probably could have easily finished it in one day.

The finished pillow.

So now I have a crowing rooster pillow, which I’m fully expecting my 2 year-old to try and claim as her own.

She says it is a dragon.

OMG Shoes

Heads up – this is going to be a picture-heavy post, hence the use of the “read more” cut.

I’ve had my eyes on some Tang Dynasty styled shoes on Taobao for awhile. The distinct rise of the up-turned or raised toe (高头履, gāotou lǚ, literally “tall head shoe”) seen on the shoes worn by Tang Dynasty women in artwork has eluded me and my amateur cobbling attempts. The much more subtle Han Dynasty shoes, exemplified by Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army and Lady Dai’s shoes, were much easier to figure out replicate. I have a box of in-process attempts at the raised toe shoes, using a variety of “how to make it stick up” methods.

With my impending vigil and elevation, though, I didn’t feel that I had time to do justice to the shoe. I’d already put in an order in early March for a pair of canvas boots similar to what we see Tang Dynasty men in round-collared robes (圓領袍, yuánlǐng páo) wearing, but they didn’t arrive until late May, due to the pandemic. Because international and domestic shipping are so significantly delayed, I was afraid if I ordered a pair from China, they may not arrived in time.

Someday, shoes – someday you will be mine.

Shoes from the Taobao listing linked above, in a variety of styles and colors. Those red ones…
Continue reading “OMG Shoes”

When You’re Wrong

Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

Last summer, there was one of those “tell us about yourself” SCA memes bouncing around Facebook. This one included how to pronounce your name.

I filled it out and posted it, using the pronunciation that I had been using since about 2016, while the name was still in the process of being registered.

The thing is, I had been pronouncing it incorrectly, and by doing so, had perpetuated others in pronouncing it incorrectly. I was wrong, and because I didn’t know, other people who looked to me as an example were also wrong.

This post has been a long time coming – believe me, I know. Every time someone has said my name, either in greeting or introducing me, in the past year and change, I have cringed a little on the inside knowing it was incorrect, but also felt like it wasn’t the right time to correct them, due to some context or another.1 Since I was first corrected, I have wanted to do a longer “I was wrong” post, but I also wanted to tie it into a larger conversation about being wrong. But it kept getting put off, then forgotten, then remembered whenever someone said my name. And then I’d feel guilty about not having done it yet.2

That changes today. Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

I should have written this sooner – not over a year after being corrected – and I’m sorry. It’s not the fault of the herald that helped me – they told me how to pronounce it correctly when we decided on the name. I can’t say for sure how the pronunciation got messed up in my head, but it did, and I am very, very sorry for making and perpetuating this mistake, and thereby not doing right by the Chinese language, its people, and their history.

Why is this such a big deal? It’s just a name, right? Names are words – words that are attached to people. And words are powerful. Names are powerful. And this name, this proper noun, is also from a language that I do not speak and a culture that I do not personal identify with. So getting it right matters a lot, and getting it wrong is bad.

All I can do now is acknowledge the mistake and point it out when my name is mispronounced. I am sorry for not doing this sooner. I will, as always, strive to do better.

<3

  1. I’ve tried to retrain my own voice to say it the correct way, and I’m doing better. 4 years of saying a word one way takes a conscious effort to correct.
  2. That happens a lot. It’s weird, and stupid, but it’s my brain. I’m working on it.

Elevation Bling – Necklaces

I didn’t have an “elevation chest” of fabric or accessories sitting and waiting to be unsealed when I was given my writ. I honestly thought I was still a good 2-3 years out, so I had time. So over the last 4 months, I have been slowly acquiring all the fabric and other bits to make my vigil and elevation outfit.

I’ll be writing more about this process using the Elevation and Vigil categories, so if you want to see all these posts, you can click on that to see them all together in one spot. Yay metadata!

Ahem – anyway. I am basing my elevation outfit the donor portraits from the Dunhuang/Mogao Caves. The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team – the group behind the amazing recreations that often float around the internet uncredited, recreated an outfit worn by the ladies in Mogao Cave 9.

The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team's recreation of a Dunhuang portrait, likely from Mogao Cave 9.
Recreation of a Dunhuang donor portrait by The Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team.

As it is with so much of this research, verifying that this very possibly restored image is from Cave 9 is difficult. It could be that it is from Cave 9/Grotto 167, and these black and white images don’t have enough contrast to fully confirm it. (I also suspect that, if this is the case, the image has been reversed.) Donor portraits in these caves were often in lower border panels of larger illustrations, and not often the subject of interest in comparison to the richly detailed murals of Buddhist art. Some of the caves have been digitized, with high resolution images of each wall and corridor, and some with digital walkthroughs. There seem to have been a rash of art exhibits back in 2016, but finding definitive information about this particular painting – likely a copy made from the mural as opposed to actual removed plaster – is difficult.

These ladies are shown wearing multiple necklaces, hair combs, u-shaped hair pins, and 9-10 larger, decorative hair pins.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not a jeweler or a metalworker, so I reached out to friends who are and asked for help in recreating the fancier bits that these ladies are wearing, while I took on the necklaces.

Late Tang women with prominent golden hairpins
A closer view at the jewelry and hair accessories from the Chinese Historical Costume Restoration Team’s project.

The innermost necklace is most likely rock crystal, or clear quartz, similar to Lady Mi’s necklace. The second necklace is most likely jade, which is a well documented material for personal adornment throughout Chinese history. The third necklace could be carnelian or coral, as both highly valued red stones used for adornment during the Tang Dynasty.

The majority of the beads are round, but the red necklace alternates between round beads and some sort of oblong shape. I interpreted these as teardrops, in part because we see teardrop shaped pendants on Khotanese ladies in Dunhuang Caves. After making these, a necklace from the Unified Silla period (Korea) in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection was shared on the SCA Korea (Unofficial) Facebook group.

The Unified Silla period, which spanned 676-935 C.E. is contemporaneous with the Tang Dynasty. Official ties between the two states weren’t reestablished after the Silla-Tang War (668–676) until the 8th century, but it’s not unreasonable to conjecture that fashion trends shared similarites – especially when the make-up of this necklace is not unlike Lady Mi’s rock crystal necklace. The comma-shaped jade in the Korean necklace are known as gokok (곡옥) in Korean and as magatama (勾玉) in Japanese, and suggest that this style of bead came to Korea from Japan, as they date from as far back as 1000 BCE there. There is a chance that the red beads in the Dunhuang necklace are comma-shaped as opposed to teardrops, but given the other Dunhuang images we have to go off of, I think it is the less likely option.

I still had some 6mm clear quartz remaining from my recreation of Lady Mi’s necklace, so I used that as my basis in terms of size for the other two pieces. The jade and red necklaces appear progressively larger than the quartz, so I chose 8mm and 10mm beads, respectively. I was able to source jade beads in the same milky green tone. For the red, I ended up getting “mountain jade,” which is dyed dolomite – actual carnelian, coral, or jadeite was not cost effective. I was also able to find mountain jade pieces that were teardrop shaped, in order to mirror the pattern in the images.

It was difficult to find red mountain jade beads in a teardop shape. If I were to make this again, I’d try to source a larger teardrop bead for the red necklace, to give more visual contrast between the two shapes. The ones I purchased were 8×12 mm.

For closures, I chose to make S-shaped hooks. I put two rings at the center of the red necklace to allow for my laurel medallion to be attached (it has S-hooks). This type of closure was known in China, as shown by the S-hook clasps of the bracelets and necklace found in Li Jingxun’s Sui Dynasty tomb. Li Jingxun’s burial jewelry was most likely imported from the west, since the techniques for working with gold did not fully develop until the Tang Dynasty, thanks to the influence of other cultures connected by the Silk Road.

I used my dress form to work out the proper length of each necklace so that they would each lay correctly.

These necklaces were the first thing I finished in preparation for my elevation – it was an easy project to knock out, once I had sourced what beads I didn’t already have on hand. I’m happy with how they turned out, and I’m excited to see what they will look like once the medallion is attached to the red necklace.

On Expectations During the Unexpected

[Written on my phone while lying in bed, because reasons.]

I’m a very to-do list and goal-oriented person. I like crossing things off lists. I like checking boxes.

In mid-March, when everything locked down and I started working from home (which I am very blessed and thankful to be able to do), I made lots of plans. Things I would do with the extra time I gained by not having to be in my car running errands, commuting, etc. Some of them, I did. Some of them got put by the wayside as pandemic anxiety settled in and started to crush all my motivation and creativity.

In December 2019, I made a 2020 to-do list which I titled The Big List. It hss SCA projects, unfinished things, household goals, finanical milestones, etc. And I can easily divide it into thirds to make sure I’m on track as the year progresses.

I’m not on track.

The Big List, July 29, 2020. To be on track, I will need to fill in 10 more things before the end of August.

I could make a sub-list of 10 things to get done between now and the end of August so I can fill in that second third in the circle, but nothing bad will happen if I don’t. And in two weeks, my son starts first grade via remote learning. I’m still teleworking, but even though I agruably have more time, my creative energy is tapped. I’m lucky if I can finish a book, let alone find one that is capable of capturing my attention.

And it’s okay. I keep telling myself that it’s okay. This too shall pass, even if we have no idea when, or what the world will look like when it does.

The best I can do is tend to immediate needs – for myself and my family – and be kinder to myself as part of that.

And that means stop looking at this list. Or maybe making a new one with fewer items – like getting vigil and elevation fabric ironed and cut for sewing…

Hang in there, folks. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this. Be kind. <3

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.