Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bells For My Bards

Many of you are near and dear to my heart. And many of you have received a bell from me, a gift for your inspiration to me, your bravery, and how you are so truly amazing that you have touched everyone with your gift of story and song. I wrote this for you, all of you. For you bring tears to my eyes in amazement with your beauty and growth.

Your words sing with beauty and glory
They touch every heart near the fire
You have changed many lives with your lilting
You have traits that so many admire

Take this bell with my blessing
Keep it close to your ear
May it's ringing remind you
You're beloved and dear

Our hearts laugh when jesters fall downwards
Our hearts break when you start to lament
Our hearts smile when endings are happy
When you finish your songs we are spent

Take this bell with my blessing
Keep it close to your ear
May it's ringing remind you
You're beloved and dear

A muse to so many around you
You inspire the warriors to stand
The East is so proud of your triumphs
Your words can be heard through the land

Take this bell with my blessing
Keep it close to your ear
May it's ringing remind you
You're beloved and dear

Nobelese Largesse A&S Swap

So I decided to sign up for an A&S swap. I figured it would let my muse play in places that it normally doesn't. So after signing up and waiting a few weeks, I had gotten my person. I wont mention them by name until the swap is over and I have given them their piece, but what I can say is she has a Spanish persona. Knowing that, I tried to think what I could make. I decided to focus on her colors (she really like jewel tones and I know I had a sapphire blue roving I've been dying to spin up). At first I was going to spin up the blue wool and then make her a book and hand knit (with interspersed pearls) a cover for her book. I realized that wouldn't work at some point early in the month of June and realized I only had two months left to make something.

I began searching the web, looking for something that would work for me. That was when I came across a spanish pouch that someone had recreated by embroidering it. It is a 13th century find and they recreated it with white, reddish gold, and sapphire blue. I figured... I can do this! Not embroidery, of course, since I don't know how to embroider, but I could knit it! Here are links to both the extant find as well as the stitch pattern as someone figured it to be.

Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage

Brick Stitch Pattern #16

Then came the scary moment of realizing I've never done color work before. I figured now was as good a time as any to learn. Since it is a simple stitch the whole way through, I figured I could focus on just the switching of colors.

So here I am wondering how to go about making the pattern. That's when I realized I could use my husband's pixel blocks! They are like legos, in 12 colors, except all perfectly square so it would work perfectly in making a color work pattern for myself. The nice part about working in this manner is that if I made a mistake (and I made a few) I could just rotate the block of 5x5 pattern to the proper manner.

As I started working, I realized I was only going to be able to use two colors. Using all three would make the pattern HUGE. So I cut it down to a yellow with bits of red, green, and blue mixed in. Sunflower, I believe it is called. And also the sapphire blue. Both were hand spun, one on my ashford, the other on my antique flax wheel.

I wanted to knit it in the true diamond pattern that was on the actual bag and as tiny as was on the bag, but because I wanted to felt the bag, I didn't want the whole thing getting lost in the felting, so I stuck with making it a little bigger and making it straight. I couldn't diamond because... well... knitting is difficult to diamond and I'm not -that- good of a knitter.

So here is an update as to how far I have gotten in 4 hours of knitting:

I will say I plan on the pattern repeating once more to make the bag longer. After felting it, I will be finger loop braiding the draw string out of red Egyptian cotton as well as making the tassels out of it. I plan to line the inside of the bag with silk, as well. Hopefully it goes over well. I'm thinking of what kind of trinket or three I can throw inside, even if it is some hand mixed home grown spices or something.

There are so many things I learned doing this project and so very many things that this was a first for me.

This was my very first color work in knitting. All in all, I think it came out pretty well (this is pre-felting):

This was my first time doing finger loop braiding. I had to teach myself using diagrams and reading instructions and a lot of trial and error since the videos were not working well for me. I used, of all things, and made the simple purse string from it. Go to the links section for a link to the proper technique I used.

This was also my first time ever making tassels. You would think, how could this be your first time? Tassels are simple things! Yes, well, they are. And I've made yarn dolls, so I knew what to do, but this was my first time ever doing it. And when attaching the tassels to the bottom corners, I used a huge needle and drew it through the wool and silk alike to the inside of the bag but no knot would keep it in. So my ingenious idea was to take a small metal bead and tie that with the cord thread and now it stays with no problem:

So, in the end, the bag ended up being: a merino blend (hand spun) for the yarn knitted in sunflower and sapphire blue. A crimson egyptian cotton (purchased) that was then finger loop braided for the drawstring and also wound for the tassels. Two clay beads for decoration (purchased). And last, but certainly not least, a silk lining for the inside. Here are a few pictures of the final project:

For a little more technical information:

The yarn was spun to about 25-30wpi.
I knitted using a pair of circular size 2 needles.
Felting shrank the bag by about 15%.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dancing Bears

At one point, as I sat searching for something very specific, I came across a snippet of a story that, no matter how hard I looked, didn't have any further information. What I cam across was the first documented moment of folk dance and music in medieval Russia which dated back to 907. Now, the reason there isn't much here is because most things found in the beginning sections of the Chronicles are more or less just anecdotes from the earlier periods. The Chronicles were originally a history of Russia from 850 to 1110 that was complied in 1113, but many additions were added through the years.

In either case, this small snippet told the tale of Grand Russian Prince Oleg who, at a large celebration in honor of his victory over the Greeks at Constantinople, was presented a group of dancers. There were 16 male dancers dressed as bears and 4 bears dressed as male dancers. When the dance, and the feast, were over, Oleg commanded the bears to be released and the dancers executed.

That is about all the snippet says, though further research shows that Oleg was thought to be partially blind and perhaps took the dancers to be from a tribe in the North who owed him 100 tiger skins in tribute. Now, the thing that I find to be interesting and what originally caught my eye and made me say 'there is a story in here somewhere' is that the story doesn't well describe whether he wanted the dancers executed, or the bears dressed up as dancers executed.

One of the other interesting things the Chronicles tell about Oleg is that he was known as The Seer. He had a prophetic vision of his death which did, in fact, come to pass. But that is another story.

This story has been sitting on the back burner for almost two years, waiting for the perfect inspiration. Where that inspiration finally came from was my decision to compete at King and Queen's bardic and they requested that the first round piece be documentable and about 12th Night. Now, I don't really know much about 12th Night, but what I -do- know is that Russians celebrated every event they could with dance. And what story would be better than the first story of dance in Russia. So, using some creative license, this is the story I came up with.

Let me tell you a story that happened on the night of the epiphany many years ago. On this night, Great Russian Prince Oleg had a strange dream. In this dream he was offered bears as tribute. But instead of being pleased with the gift, he drew his dagger and leapt upon the bears, skinning each where they stood. Out of those wound poured not blood, but gold and rubies.

Oleg awoke, confused. He began questioning his advisors what such a prophetic dream could mean. None could give him an answer. After months of this, even the Boyars began to call Oleg a fool for holding on to such nonesense. So Oleg pushed aside the dream and instead worked on mastering the art of war.

It wasn't long before Oleg had brought his armies to the border and conquered Tsargav, the great city of Constantinople. A grand feast was prepared in Kiev on the anniversary of his dream, that night of epiphany. Boyars and Boiarynias from far and wide came bearing gifts fit for their prince.

One tribe from the North gave their sons skins and instruments to bring to Kiev so they may entertain the prince. Upon arriving at the hall, the musicians were sent inside so they may set up while the rest of the men spoke with the captain of the guard. As they dressed in their skins, they explained to him their plan and asked he announce their arrival before they enter. The captain seemed amused with the idea and was happy to enter the hall ahead of them.

"Behold! A grand tribute for Great Prince Oleg!"

Into the hall loped sixteen bears on all fours. The people gasped. Oleg was delighted.

"A glorious gift! Skin them."

The bears gasped. The captain wasn't certain he had heard Oleg correctly.

"Gozposhin, skin them?"

"Yes. Skin them. Do you dare question me?"

To save his own hide, the captain approached one of the bears, but his eyes were wide with fear. The bear appeared to offer the guard desperate instructions, which appeared to calm him. Carefully he drew his dagger and even more carefully he eased the furs off of each creature. Suddenly the sixteen majestic bears transformed into sixteen scrawny peasants. Oleg was not pleased.

"Is this some kind of trick, captain?"

The musicians, seeing their friends in trouble, called for music. As the tune filled the hall, the captain looked expectantly at the former bears who, in turn, looked at one another.

"What do we do now?"

"We follow through with the plan."

"But we were to dance as bears."

"Then we will dance as bears. Our lives may depend on it."

Suddenly each man leapt into the air, twisting and spinning like bears in battle: strong and graceful. The room filled with laughter. A man called out, "What a miracle!" A miracle that Oleg was all too quick to accept as his own.

"Behold, boyars and boiarynias. Did my dream not tell us true? For this is my true gift. More valuable than bears. More precious than jewels."

Oleg was happy. The people were happy. The captain was happy. But none were more happy than the bears.

On this day the Barynya, the bear dance, was born. All of Russia praised Oleg's name in gratitude for the gift of dance he had given to them.

And never again would any doubt Oleg's prophetic dreams.