Category Archives: Crafts
It is hard to believe that it is well over a year since we updated the blog, but such is the case. When we last posted we had just started our 2015 season, and now we are just closing down our 2016 one, although in that time a lot of things have happened; all good I hasten to add!
As way of a catch up I’ll post a few images of the things we have got up to!
At the end of May in 2015, we held a small market event with some friends from Svartland Vikings. It was a great event and we forged some great friendships. This event was also the first full event of our newest members: Ulfrik and Leonor, with their little girl Inês.
We also had our usual run of living history events throughout the year, including our usual full week holiday in August. …. and our seeming endless feasts! In 2016, we began the year with a few preparatory weekends, but in May began our full living history events programme. Plenty more lamp lit feasts…
We also held a second May viking market with the Svartland Vikings, and guests, this year over 40 of us turned up, and in addition we were able to take advantage of some alterations to the field next to the village, to really integrate our living history displays, and our two groups! It was a fantastic event, and I am very excited for 2017s event!
I was also invited to attend the Viking World- Diversity and Change conference, which was a great event, filled with some stimulating lectures. I also had to opportunity to sell some of my reproduction items, which proved popular, as well as making some good friends and contacts! In general, the last 18 months have seen my small reproduction item business do quite well, so if you are interested please have a look over at blueaxereproductions.com or drop me an email at email@example.com. I hope to update the website with more of the items I have been working on over the winter 2016-17.
A couple of us also got the opportunity to attend the Heysham Viking festival (follow the hyperlink for Facebook pictures of the event), hosted by the Vikings reenactment society as guests. It was a fun event, with amazing weather, and we got the opportunity to demonstrate some of our crafts and trade with other reenactors and members of the public. The event is scheduled to run again in 2017, and we hope that we get the opportunity to attend again.
We spent our usual full week at Murton in August, as did our usual array of crafts, cooking, and a little weapons training, as it has been so long since many of us fought, that even the basics are getting rusty!
We also took the opportunity to take some portrait photographs of our viking characters whilst we were there. There are still some we need to take, but it was good fun, and we got a few nice images.
I was also invited to speak (with my archaeologist hat on), at an event at Largs, which was a Vikings training weekend, and a celebration of the Glasgow Vikings 40th anniversary. I gave a talk on the viking cemetery at Cumwhitton I was involved in publishing, and also some of the reproductions I made for Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.
That brings us up to date, with just one more end of year banquet, and a few social and craft events outside of living history. We hope to have a busy year next year, and this time we’ll make more effort to update the blog more regularly!
No this is not the second hit by Brennan Huff and Dale Doback (warning explicit lyrics) from Prestige Worldwide, but a little update on some of the crafts we have been up to in preparation for the first proper weekends at the village in Murton.
We have been to the Village once already, but as the weather was incredibly poor, we had an awful lot of building maintenance to do, and the site was closed to the public we decided to just get on with that, and abandoned the reenacting, so the wooly pants have yet to be worn in anger this year. We have another trip to Murton coming up next weekend, which again will involve more maintenance, but this time properly in kit, and that should be the last for a few weekends which will be more craft and fun based, as the weather will be warm enough for us to take the kids along again… whether or not it remains dry is another matter!
We have been getting all the clothes out, seeing what fits the little ones, and what doesn’t, and what we might need new.I decided to finally get some more leather from a fantastic store called LeProvo in Newcastle, and make some more pairs of shoes and boots.
Whilst the kids feet were growing fast, I was reluctant to make shoes as they would want redoing every six months, but Now Hakon is 5, then he has slowed down a little growth wise, and also we will also at least get a second use out of them when Ragenleif gets a bit bigger. Therefore, he finally has his own pair of viking boots, and very cute too!
I must admit, I have been thinking about these since we went to Ireland early in the year and saw this:
Archaeologically small sizes seem to be the most common finds, which I have often heard people say is because of ‘smaller feet back then’. However, we really have no evidence for this, indeed average heights are not much smaller than today. Average heights for the period in Scandinavia and the UK tend to average around the 5ft7-5ft8 mark for men and 5ft2 for women, compared to 5ft9 and 5ft3 today… so actually there isn’t much in it, indeed Viking warriors graves often average out as pretty tall (around 5ft11-6ft). However, when you think logically about shoes it is pretty obvious. When my (UK size 9) shoes are worn through beyond saving for me to use, there is actually a lot of good leather still left in them that can be cut down to a smaller size, until ultimately we get to small adult/kids sizes, when they are probably about done anyway. This would leave us with a small size skew archaeologically.
I have also completed a new pair of toggle boots for Aelgifu/Katla and am making myself a pair of ‘tall’ boot based on the finds from Hedeby and Deventer, which I finally got access to the leather publication of. You can see an image of a reconstruction of the boots here:
They are the tallest boots I know dated to the 9th-10th century, coming almost to my mid calf, though not quite. They are also the inspiration for the ‘viking sea boots’ which is a bit of a ‘reenactorism’. The latter often come to the knee, and never have the odd little ‘winkle picker’ toe point. Still these are very unusual, and I do not know of any evidence for them in any UK sites or in sites in modern Scandinavia, where lower ankle height boots are the norm until later in the 12th-13th century. Indeed even in Hedeby and Deventer the low shoe and ankle boots seems to be king. Here is my final attempt:
Secondly, and inexplicably linked to shoes and boots, are spurs (indeed the boots from Cumwhitton were only preserved as mineralized remains on two pairs of spurs). I have finally got around to finishing off my spurs; based on the Cumwhitton finds, I forged at York Last year, and here they are:
It has been surprising looking deeper into Spurs in the 9th-10th century, and finding out just how many there are. Particularly in Viking graves in the North West of England, but also Scotland, and Ireland like these ones in the National Museum of Ireland.
Clearly they were an important item of dress and equipment, and I believe that they should be considered an item off dress of a man of a high rank, much the same way we would look on a sword, or high quality belt fittings, knives, pendants, and other items. The objects people wore were always functional, but it would be foolhardy to think they didn’t also convey something about the person; who they were, what they did, how much wealth they had. A pair of spurs may well mark a high-ranking viking, or even Saxon, out the same way they would a cowboy or a lawman in the old west.
I have also been busy finishing making a door and shutters for the Viking house, which hopefully I can get installed this weekend. Either way, I’ll be sure to get some pictures and update you all on the progress!
If the title of this post has induced horrendous visions of being stuck on a bus with Cliff Richard singing, have no fear, this is actually about something far less terrifying; a long hall full of armed and marauding vikings. At the beginning of August our society held its annual weeks holiday at Murton Park. The group has attempted to hold a week-long event there since the first one in July 2004, 10 years ago, and also during the event we had our 11 year anniversary as a society and celebrated it in our own unique way as you will see.
We stopped in another house this weekend, as our is still undergoing some work on the roof and daub, and with the kids along, it was much easier to simply stop elsewhere.This is a picture of the house we stopped in on the first holiday, and you can see how long ago it is, as there is a rare straw bale, the house didn’t have a porch yet, and most importantly, Anlaf still had hair!
Here is the same house now, which you can see has a convenient porch and deck outside, which is very useful with the kids.
We brought a lot of things to stop the full week, and set out the inside as best we could.
There is something quite satisfying about stopping in these places for a longer period, as you get the opportunity to slide into a more natural pattern of eating and sleeping and it becoming ‘normal’. The only problem is, as with most holidays, just as you are getting used to it, its time to come home again.
Either way the kids enjoyed the week in their usual fashion, Hakon spent a lot of time fighting and joking around.
Ragenleif… well she did her own thing as usual
We got on with a few jobs on the village, such as shingling the backside of our house, fitting the remaining shutter, and Al gave us a great hand by building out and trimming the eaves on the front of the house. Osric and Snorri also got a lot of daubing done inside Snorri’s house, and on the side and front of our house, Osric being watched here by Hakon and Ragenleif.
During the week Odin also got a bit of a haircut of salad leaves, like a larger version of an cress-haired egg-man!
We also get more opportunity to wear many of the different and elaborate outfits we have made over the years. Here is Katla in her Viking style strap dress and accessories with Ragenleif.
Here is Einar ad Hakon showing off their dress, Einar in a copy of the Viborg shirt, with linen trousers and winingas, with a belt and seax.
However, where the real beauty and mystery of the village comes to life is at night, by the light of the fire.
By firelight everything seems more enigmatic. One can put aside reality and be drawn a little into the atmosphere. The fire flickers, and shiny objects glitter and sparkle in the dark. The dark corners and shadows draw a veil over the dirt, dust, and any authenticity inaccuracies just like snow does, and the imagination and the senses seem much more alive in the dark.
It is a wonderful place to take photographs, though with the low light it can be quite tricky. Any attempt to artificially light the place looks awful, flash or any lighting of any other kind can easily destroy the wonderfull shadows and the yellow glow. Yet there is precious little light to capture images without graining and blurring, and often I resort to putting liquid wax or oil onto the fire to produce a bright flare for a few seconds to allow me to use a slightly faster shutter speed. If you notice anyone a little dazed looking on the photographs; now you know why!
We also tend to let the children stay up until they fall asleep, and often they will play viking and other ancient games, like Katla and Hakon here playing pick-up stones, a scene I can almost image all those years ago; a boy and his mum playing a game by firelight.
After the cooking is done, everyone gets together for the evening meal. The cooking and the meals are a great opportunity to use known viking ingredients and suggested recipes and attempt to investigate some of the possible tastes of the tenth century: Lamb and onions with leaf salad and beetroot, onion soup and bread, bacon, boar, and barley, vegetable stew amongst other treats.
Of course, in such an environment, it would be rude not to same some fine brewed ales and meads as well!
I’d like to pick up a final point I mentioned briefly earlier, and it is a point I have also heard echoed by Professor Neil Price in his Messenger lectures at Cornell University about firelight and shiny things, notably metalwork. You can see on this picture of me, the effect the brass, tin, and silver of my belt buckles, strap ends, seax sheath fittings, and arm rings have in a dark hall. You can also see how the tin sheet on the Tating ware jug, and the tinned studs on the iron-bound box glow. To people in the 10th century, this would seem as enticing and enchanting as it does to us, perhaps even more so.
I’d also like to introduce you to two new looks Einar and Snorri are trying, entitled ‘Blued Steel’
It was a shame to leave, but we had a good trip, with more progress on the house, some good feasts and chats, and even a sneaky trip into the Yorkshire museum and the Jorvik centre to check out some of the real stuff again. We will be back again in early September for a birthday celebration, and another great banquet!
We have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some crafts projects and I’d thought I’d share a few of them with you all. We have the groups annual week-long holiday at the Danelaw village at Murton Park Museum of farming next week and we have been furiously getting things made and ready for the week ahead. This has included buying straw hats, sharpening and repairing axes, sourcing wicker baskets, waterproofing shoes, cleaning pans and cauldrons, making implements to cook with, planning food to cook, and making and repairing clothes to last the full week.
It was my wife’s birthday last week, and I decided to make her a present. Using some spare off-cuts we had I made her a jewelry box of her own to keep her Viking treasures in, as the one we had been sharing was getting a bit full!
The box is not an exact copy but it uses elements of many exisitng finds, combined in what I feel is an appropriate period fashion. It has a lot in common with one of the boxes from the Birka cemetery, such as its small size, the handle, and general design. The Birka example uses decorative copper-alloy plates, but iron straps and brackets are common to many boxes including Cumwhitton and the boxes from the Oseberg ship, and the tinned nails are found on the Oseberg ship boxes.
The handle and lock plate are pretty ubiquitous on most boxes from the period, and the exact design of the lock being is that of a verticle mounted type (as described here), found on many boxes, both Viking and Anglo-Saxon. On this last photo you can just see the bluey-purple tinge of the metal, which I heated and quenched to darken it.
The key is not the final version, as I didn’t have any steel appropriate. But it serves to open the box for now. The two teeth and the handle can be seen, and how they reach round inside the lock, to depress the spring, then allowing the key to act as a handle, and slide back the locking pin. One very obvious thing missing, is the hasp that actually closes the lock, which I hope to make next week on the forge at York.
I also turned a few more objects on the lathe, in order to reduce some of the wood pile in my garage before any wood worm gets at it. I made a few small early medieval cups out of birchwood, with the classic globular shape, and decorative grooves.
We have also been very busy making clothes, particularly linen garments in order to cope with the heat we are having at the moment. As well as a few tunics for the children, I have also made myself some linen trousers, in two distinct patterns. Viking age trousers are, by and large, guessed at from pictorial sources, and the patterns of finds from the preceeding period. There are a few tentative pieces from the Viking age, which do suggest some commonality with these earlier garments, but there is still a lot of guesswork involved. For a very good summary of the archaeological evidence this article is definitely worth a read.
The first trousers I made are a pair of shorter, wide waisted trousers, to a very simple design similar to those found at a much earlier site at Marx Etzel, and a number of mediterranean and continental sites from the first few hundred years AD. These trousers come down to my calves, a bit like long shorts, or cut offs, and I shall be wearing them with red linen hose or woven leg bindings. Thor Ewing’s ‘Viking Clothing’ book makes a interesting case for garments such as there, and after having a chat with him at the Midlands Viking conference earlier this year, I decided to try some variations on these, to asses their style and practicality. So far they do look very different, and given the evidence for this style of dress, there does seem to be a distince continental, particularly Carolingian feel to it, which makes a lot of sense to me. Given how popular Carolingian metalwork is, the idea that elements of continental clothing fashion creept into Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England too, including these hose and such linen garments is quite compelling. Certainly the volume of the trousers, combined with the tightness of the leg bindings, produce a remarkably similar profile to some of the baggier looking trouser on many period illustrations, indicating that not all may have been quite as baggy as the ‘Rus’ pants worn by reenactors, and clearly illustrated on some pictorial sources. The legs are slit up the back slightly, to allow a quite tight fit around the calf.
Ultimately, because of the size of the piece of cloth I had, I ended up with a bit of a hybrid pattern between the two garments, with the crotch and back gussets more like Thorsberg, but with triangular inserts in between the legs and gussets, to allow more room for movement, and prevent embarrassing tears when squatting! I was really quite pleased with this hybrid design, as it felt very like another version of the sorts of tailoring and designs we often see in archaeological clothing remains, which often seem to hint at a variety of specific patterns, within and certain style and philosophy of tailoring.
Finally, I have begun to make myself a pair of red linen hose to wear as an alternative to leg windings (once again if you wish to read a decent summary of the evidence for hose, please visit here). Whilst there is some debate as to whether red linen is linked to hose specifically, as dyed linen does not seen to be very common in the period, there is a reasonable argument to be made for it. As the lower legs are very visible in Viking mens clothing, and even the tops of the Coppergate sock had a small red band around it, I decided that red linen would be very striking and a good way to spend a small amount of money on a small piece of material, that would be very visible. I shall be sure to take some pictures, when I have them done!
We now have a final weekend to put the finishing touches to the lat bits of clothing, and then we will be ready to head to York next Tuesday! If you are in the area in the week between Tuesday 5th and Monday 11th of August, then do drop by and say hi!
So we finally have the prototype casts back from the oval brooches I had been working on previously. Unfortuneately they are a failed casting, as the flange on one is incomplete, and an area of the side, and one of the bosses, on the second has not cast properly. However, I am still fairly pleased with the result. We may see if we can use these to practice finishing them off, as an example of the finished product, and to allow us to work out how else to go about casting them. We may even be able to have the patched up with a TIG welder as a sample pair.
They are a little heavier than the originals, as we made them thicker to help the casting process, but as they didn’t cast we may need to adjust our originals, and indeed our method of casting a little to try to guarantee the end result and enable us to cast them a little thinner and closer the the weight of the originals. They are, however, even in their unpolished and ‘fresh from the mould’ including with the ceramic mould residue remaining, very impressive looking!
I have been working for some time on a set of oval brooches, reconstructed from fragments found in Northern Cumbria. The brooches are of the Berdal types with gripping beast motifs, from the early in the viking period. I started off by making a number of sketches of the reconstructed brooch, as the original does not fully survive, and is smashed into a number of pieces.
After this, I decided to sculpt the original in milliput, as it is tough, hard-wearing, can be sculpted, sanded, filed, and carved, and, most of all, I am familiar with it. I constructed myself a wooden former to fit inside the brooch, screwed to a small flat piece of wood to hold when shaping, and laid over it a thin layer of milliput to form the shell of the brooch. I then added small panels for the raised decorative areas, which I roughly shaped a design on. Then followed the time-consuming bit, sitting down with a scalpel, and sculpting the designs in all the panels individually. As you can see from the picture, there is a lot of thinking, re-thinking, sketching, and trials that I go through during the process, to get the final product.
When I was happy with it, I removed it from the base, and did a final scrub, sand and clean to get the finish as good as I can.
When this is done, I got in touch with a friend of mine who works in a lead foundry, who offered to make up some wax copies for me, and help me through the next stages of production. This was the bit I know nothing about, and would almost certainly have to have sent it off to a foundry and just asked them to ‘make that’!
My friend cast up the basic shell in wax, and added the tags on to the back of the brooch which will form the hinges and hook when finished. Our next challenge was adding the small ‘animal’ knobs to the top of the brooch. In the original these were cast separately, and riveted on, but that is a lot of small individual items, and a lot of filing, hammering, and fitting, so we decided for the prototype to cast them in the wax, and fuse them on, then the whole object will be in one piece.
As you can see, the object is now beginning to resemble its 8th-9th century counterpart, the next stage, is casting it in brass, followed by polishing, and fitting with silver wire chevrons!
thanks for reading
Well the moulds have dried out and we have had a first run at casting some of the sculpts I have done up in pewter. Some need a little cleaning up still, but for a first run they all came out pretty nicely.
Firstly we have a nice brooch found at West Stow Heath in Suffolk, and is a little square brooch, the original in copper-alloy, with a small dragon design on it. Shown here next to a drawing of the original.
Starting some work on some sculpting and mould making this week. Mostly buckles, strapends, and small brooches, with the intention of casting them up in pewter to begin, and perhaps have some copper-alloy casts done later. We have started with some rough miliput sculpts, which we are going to carve and file in detail after it has hardened.
We are all off back to Murton this coming weekend and I have, over the last few months, been working on and off on a number of projects. Firstly, a copy of a 10th century wooden knife handle found during excavations in York. As you can see from the published drawing the back portion of the knife was reasonably well-preserved, but the front was missing and I had to get creative and try to reconstruct it as best I could.
The first attempt I felt was a little short, so I had another go with a slightly longer handle, and mounted it on to straight-backed style blade, which I have noticed seems to be more popular in Scandinavia during the period.
… And also a seax scabbard, with some brass fittings. The fittings are a hybrid of Scandinavian sidearm knife fitting sets, and the style of fittings from some contemporary sites, and an earlier saxon seax. As there are no seax fittings remaining on the examples of decorated seaxes we have from the UK, I am fairly confident this is a decent educated conjecture, and pretty close to how they probably looked. At least, if someone walked past me wearing it in the 10th century I am fairly sure they would think that’s nice, rather than; what the hell is that supposed to be!
I have also been working on casting some ‘silver’ rings, arms rings, and strap ends. Obviously, these are actually pewter, but it has been a reasonably cheap and effective was of me learning how to cast, and cold forge and punch the metal.
After drawing out a flat bar, I made some metal punches and decided to have a go at making one of the domed hollow punched arm rings from the Silverdale hoard, a hoard found in the next village to the one I grew up in.
When I had decorated the arm ring, I used a rawhide hammer to beat the flat bar domed over the reverse head of a ball pein hammer, before soldering on some terminals, which was actually the trickiest part.
You can see the enlarged photocopy of the original arm ring, with its central rosette here, next to the pre domed punched bar. I haven’t plucked the courage to try another yet, but I do plan to, and this time try to add the rosette to, perhaps with an amber setting?