So it is not uncommon for people to say “I hate politics” or “I avoid politics”. I have been one of those people, and I certainly understand the distaste that others have. For the purposes of this discussion I will refer to this definition of “politics”: “competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership”. This definition highlights the fact that politics is inherently about conflict, and most people want to avoid conflict if they can. However, conflict can’t be avoided forever if you want to be an integral and active member of the group involved. Inevitably there will come a point where some issue is important enough to you that you must face the conflict and try to resolve it. The skills and techniques used to manage these interpersonal conflicts are like any other skill. They must be learned and practiced. It’s all well and good to say “I hate swimming”, but when the river rises you’ll be better off if you know how to swim.

Much of the aversion to politics I think comes from bad experiences with people who make use of those skills in a way that negatively affects some portion of the group. Politics is a tool, and like any tool it can also be a weapon. Conflicts can be resolved in a way that brings the most good to the most people (even if they are not all completely happy), or they can be resolved in a way that benefits one side to the detriment of the other. The former path is harder, but ultimately provides the greatest benefit to the group as a whole.

Even if you don’t think you are “important” enough to be one of the people who would be mediating conflicts, it behooves you to pay attention and think about how those people who are go about it. When the time comes that you see the river rising, it’s good to have a plan for what to do when it gets to you.

What is the Laurel?

This was originally posted in 2009, shortly after my elevation, in response to a discussion about “peer like qualitites”.

I knew I wanted to be a Laurel early on in my SCA career. The barony I started playing in had a large concentration of Laurels, and I wanted to be like them. I didn’t know exactly why, except that they did lots of cool stuff, but I knew that was the path I wanted to be on. Did I know where it led at that point? Not really.

So I became an apprentice, and took the green belt that was the outward sign of my ambition. Over the years I pursued the various arts that appealed to me, and in time began to teach them to others. For a long time I was in that contradictory state where, if asked, I would say that the Laurel wasn’t my goal, while the sash around my waist said the opposite. It wasn’t until later that I came to understand why that wasn’t entirely contradictory, and I found my own understanding of what it meant to me.

What is the Laurel?

After many years, I got to the place that many have reported finding themselves, namely the land of What If I Never Become A Laurel? It’s not a fun place, but it’s a good place to do some thinking. I started trying to figure out what exactly I was missing out on, besides jewelry and meetings. I didn’t need the Laurel to do my art, and I didn’t even need it to teach. I couldn’t take official apprentices without it, but I could have students and encourage others to pursue their own arts. What, I wondered, was the Laurel really good for?

As far as I can tell, the Laurel is a license. What is a license? It’s a document that tells someone who does not know you personally that some accredited group has deemed you fit to perform some task. A driver’s license says that you have passed the driving test and are at least minimally competent to safely operate a vehicle. A medical or law license says that you have completed the necessary training to work in those professions. The Laurel is like a teaching license, in that it declares that you are able to competently perform and teach the arts and sciences that we do in the SCA.

Is a license an award? Sort of. A doctor receives his diploma in a ceremony and hangs it on the wall of his office so you can see his credentials, just as the Laurel receives and displays his regalia. What it is not is the end of the journey. Imagine a med student graduating, getting his medical license, and then retiring! Receiving the license is the end of one journey, and the beginning of a career.

What is the purpose of a license?

You may have noticed my earlier emphasis on the fact that a license certifies your credentials to those who don’t know you. It’s possible to be an artisan and a teacher in the SCA without being a Laurel, and even to do so better than some who are. The only thing the Laurel will do is to give an idea of your skills to someone who has no knowledge of you, either personally or by reputation. If you tell someone “I’m a cooking Laurel”, that gives them a certain idea of your ability to cook in a period style, redact recipes, etc. It is am imprecise tool, and one that can be misused, like any tool. When used wisely and honestly, though, it helps those who are seeking knowledge and advice find it more easily.

What is the value of a license?

The value of a license is directly related to the reputation of the institution that grants it. A medical license from a third world country does not necessarily carry the same weight as one granted in a more industrialized nation. The value of the Laurel is equal to the sum of all the experiences that a particular person has had with Laurels (or perhaps Laurels from your kingdom or local group). If someone has had bad experiences with Laurels, they will place less weight on it as an accurate measure of skill and personality, and vice versa for those who have had mostly good experiences.

This is why the Laurel is a polling order. It is in their best interests to maintain a high level of quality in their membership, and therefore a high level of overall respect for the Laurel as an Order (or a brand, if you will). If they let in a bunch of jerks, then people will start to think all Laurels are jerks, and therefore that they personally are jerks.

So is it just a status symbol?

While it is a status symbol, like most status symbols it does have a useful purpose. A big SUV is a symbol of wealth, but if it is regularly used to transport large numbers of people then it is not an empty symbol. Likewise, a Laurel who is using their status to actively teach and promote the arts more widely than they might have been able to without it is making good use of it.

Shield v.3

A while ago I remade my first heater shield into a centergrip. It worked much better that way than it ever did strapped, but it has recently become battered enough that it’s time to replace it. I cut the same shape out of two layers of 1/4″ birch plywood and glued them together in the shield press with a slight curve. I cut out the hole for the center, leaving a strip through the center to use as the handle. I painted the front and back and padded the handle with foam weather stripping front and back, covered with duct tape and athletic grip tape. The edge is covered with metal-cored plastic edging from McMaster-Carr, with rawhide from Viking Leathercrafts sewn over it. As before, I filled the back with a handy list of chivalric virtues and the poem I wrote for my second shield. I also added copies of my relevant paperwork for convenience during armor inspection.


IMG_1843IMG_1842On the occasion of the investiture of Bjorn and Genevieve as Baron and Baroness of Iron Mountain, I decided to make a fur muff as a gift for Her Excellency. For good measure, I made a pair of matching muffs for the Queen and Princess as well. Most of the materials came from my stash, except for the beads for the buttons and the chains and the satin for the appliques. The red muff is a damask of unknown fiber content, interlined with two layers of polar fleece and lined and trimmed with fake fur. The cords are fingerlooped from cotton crochet yarn, which was also used to make the thread wrapped buttons. The applique is polyester satin glued to a paper backing and outlined in couched cord. The black and white muff is made from similar materials an in a similar fashion, except for the shell being made of velvet and the applique involving some extra chain stitch, back stitch, and beads in the center. This was not a very deeply researched project, but it was pretty satisfying for being done on relatively short notice. Stella, Serafina, Veronica, and Sefa helped with many aspects of the construction.

Lorayne Alman

Recently Her Highness Emelyne, Crown Princess of Meridies, asked me to suggest a dance to open her White Rose Ball, and I was happy to offer Lorayne Alman as an option that was simple, pretty, and (with the aid of musicians) able to go for as short or long a time as desired. As I suggested the dance, it behooves me to provide some instruction for those unfamiliar with the steps.

Lorayne Alman appears in one of the Inns of Court manuscripts from 1570, and matching music can be found in contemporary sources. Discussion of these sources can be found in Practise for Dauncinge. The steps are as follows:

Part A:

  • 4 alman doubles forward, hopping

Part B:

  • 1 alman double forward
  • 1 alman double backward
  • 1 alman double forward
  • turn to the outside
  • repeat Part B

All of the steps in this dance are doubles, which are with three steps and a pause: left, right, left, pause. A left double is done first, followed by a right double: right, left, right, pause. Left and right alternate for the duration of the dance. That said, it is generally not important (and, for ladies, not visible) if one is on the wrong foot in this dance.

While the source for this dance refers to the step simply as a “duble”, we look to Arbeau’s Orchesography (1589) for a description of how the double is done in an Alman. Arbeau describes it as “three steps and one grève or pied en l’air“, which is to say to take three steps and then raise the foot in the air on the fourth beat during the pause. It is not necessary to raise the foot quite as high as the illustration shows, though you are welcome to do so if you desire. In part A of this dance, there is also a hop on the fourth beat of the double, making the entire sequence step, step, step, hop with foot in the air.

Aside from doubles forward and back, there is a turn, which is done to the left by the men (who are standing on the left) and to the right by the ladies, so that they are turning away from each other and end facing forward once more. As far as the feet are concerned, this is simply another double that happens to go in a circle instead of a straight line.

There are two ways to determine that you are in the second part of the dance where the backward double occurs. First, you can listen to the music, which has a different melody for the A and B sections. Second, you may recall that the A section of the dance has doubles with hops at the end, while the B section has no hops. This means that if the couple in front of you just did a double with no hop, then you are about to go backwards. In any case, the music is not so fast that it is very difficult to change directions should you begin going forward instead of backward.


There is a commonly used arrangement of the music available here for musicians, and also recordings freely available for dancers to practice to:

Arming Points

arming_point4I had some trouble using leather laces to attach my leg armor to my new arming doublet, so I decided that was a part of my kit that needed an upgrade. On the advice of my jouster friend I decided to try making them from waxed braided hemp. I had a ball of ~1mm hemp cord lying around, so I gave it a try using a plain old 3-strand plait (with the help of a binder clip to tie off on). A random pillar candle supplied wax, which I melted into the braid with an iron and a press cloth. Two or three applications of wax seemed to be enough to give a smoother surface, though it certainly did not completely penetrate the fibers of the braid. The ends were trimmed to length and impregnated with wood glue.

I made aglets in the usual method from 0.010″ brass sheet, about 2.5″ long and blunt on the end. Since the braid was somewhat variable in width due to the cord I used, I finished each aglet by crimping it onto the end where it was going to be installed. They were then attached with a bit of E6000.

Ode to a Shield

IMG_1454A shield lives not for glory,
Like the sword of shining steel;
Upon its face the story
Of its owner is revealed.

While swords have names and pedigrees
A shield is thrown away,
Content to have the chance to be
The one that saved the day.

For though a sword may win a war
And pay its bloody cost,
The shield should be remembered for
Each war that isn’t lost.

This was written to go on the back of my shield.

Shield v.2 – Finished

Testing straps for the shield handle

Testing straps for the shield handle

Water-softened rawhide edging held in place with binder clips

Water-softened rawhide edging held in place with binder clips

Carpet tacks used to hold ends of edging

Carpet tacks used to hold ends of edging


Saddle stitching with waxed linen thread

Completed hardware including leather-wrapped foam pad

Completed hardware including leather-wrapped foam pad

Finished shield front

Finished shield front

Shield v.2 – Shield Press

I never expected my first heater shield to be my Forever Shield, so it’s no surprise that I’m making a new one. At the regional fighter practice, I was informed by a knight of great wisdom and experience that I was using the wrong shield for me. After borrowing his shield for a few fights, I was convinced that he was right and decided to take his advice.

The plan for the new shield is a 22″ x 32″ heater (vs ~24″ x 28″ for the old one) with a ~1/5″ curve. This website has some neat ideas that I plan to pilfer, and I found some nice instructions on rawhide edging here. The first step is to construct the body of the shield.


I didn’t want to spend too much money or effort on building the shield press, so I made this frame out of 2×4’s screwed together.


I cut two pieces of 1/4″ birch plywood roughly 24″ x 36″ so I had enough space to trim things up when I was done. Both pieces were liberally coated with wood glue.


I drew the shape of the shield is drawn on the inside layer, then put the two together on the frame. Another 2×4 and a pair of wood clamps provided the pressure for the glue and the curvature.



I cranked the clamps down on either end until I had about the curve I wanted. Now I’ll let it sit for a few days to dry and hope that it turns out.


Folding Trestle Table: Trestle v2.0

The original folding trestle table was a quick proof of concept, which did the job of showing how the thing worked. Unburdened by reckless eagerness, I put in some proper shop time to make a nicer version. This one was made to the same dimensions out of some oak reclaimed from an unknown past project. The construction is all mortise and tenon (with liberal use of power tools), but otherwise has the same form as the first one. I applied two coats of spar varnish while the two frames were still separate. To allow for this, the hinge this time involved a hole through the full width of the inside frame and another halfway through the outside frame. The inner hole is exactly 3/8″ to allow for the hinge pin to have a snug fit, while the outer hole is 1/64″ larger so the hinge can move freely.

The only part that is visibly different in form is the ring/hook hardware for the adjustment chains. The description of the example in the V&A is fairly informative, though there is no picture of this feature:

Two iron chains (of 13 long links) are fixed to one upper stretcher on rings, any link of the chain fitting over an iron hook in the opposite upper stretcher, so as to secure the trestle open and adjust the table height. The two hooks and rings are driven through the stretchers and the split ends bent over.

To approximate this arrangement, I again made use of the ever-present coat hangers, in a slightly more complex manner.

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