Thursday, May 31, 2012

Upcoming plans

Mostly posting here because until my computer is fixed, I can't upload or save files and I want to remember the things I am planning to work on.

I would like to make a medieval gusli as well as learn to play it while singing.

I am hoping to replicate a medieval mixed media icon at some point as a gift for the cathedral at Casa Bardicci. Although I have learned that the pearling was done post period, so I need to start actually researching the Russian icons.

Someone had sent me this link to close up photos of an extant shawl found in Estonia from the 13th-14th century. I've been chatting with my fiber friends and hope to hand spin (on a proper Russian supported spindle) and hand weave the shawl and accompanying trim on it.

I am planning to work on my next metal/glass project by trying to remake (with my own touches, of course) the Merode cup. This will also be a gift.

 At some point I would like to work on period Russian music I came across as well as reconstructing the tales from the Primary Chronicles into tell-able stories/bylina/and poems.

Want to make this:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Russian Lacquer Boxes: Step Two

To follow this project from the beginning, go here.

I've learned a lot through out this project. One thing I've learned is that lacquer, although dry enough for another layer in half an hour, really needs hours of drying to make the smell go away. I can't explain for how long this lacquer smells stays in the house. I think next time I plan this project, I'm going to do the entire thing in an outdoor setting for various reasons.

That being said, on to step two.

The acrylic worked so much better. In fact, after applied, the biggest issue is that it can create a lot of brush marks in the work so it takes quite a bit of lacquer to be able to even everything out. This is where sanding comes in. Getting everything nice and even and then placing another layer of lacquer on so everything can have that nice smooth finish works fabulously.

So, when I got enough layer on over the the base paints, it was time to start considering what to do for a design. I decided to use the boxes I already had for inspiration and they were done in a strawberry pattern.

What luck! Strawberries were  very popular in Italy, particularly Venice and Novgorod, where Katrusha is from, was known as The Venice of Russia! For some reason the entire idea really worked for me.

The first thing I had to do was get the basic red and yellow colors down. It looked so blobby to me, just these massive patterns of red and yellow that didn't quite look like anything exciting at all.

Both the red and yellow were acrylic. At first I was going to put a bunch of layers of lacquer between the first part of the design and the highlights which would be in gold and black as it is said to be done that way, but I also didn't do the gold leaf inlay or anything so I decided to take the easy way out and put the accents on later.

When I was trying to decide what kind of paint to use, after realizing the tempura that I had purchased for the project would quite work and the acrylic was just a little too thick to be able to get the detail I want, I decided to search the ol' ink drawer and found myself some nice India ink and some gold ink I've used before as well. I figured with the two of those I should be able to get some good detail.

After using the paint, I actually loved seeing how far a small paintbrush of ink would go. Much further than the paint, thankfully. I worked with the gold first and was incredibly pleased with how just the gold made everything pop. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Then I used the black, which was just really a little bit of touching up here and there on the strawberry leaves, but it worked. Really well. After a few dots of red paint, I was pleased with how things looked.

Then it was time to start working on the bottom sides. I used some painters tape to tape off a portion so that I could make a really nice ribbon of red which I then planned to put a criss-cross pattern on using the black and gold inks. I had read how this was a typical way of doing side work detail as it emanated some styles of cloth design. The only problem was, these being round boxes, I was free handing the lines. Over all, though, I was incredibly pleased (again) and placed a few dots in the diamonds that showed up. That was when I put the boxes together and...

They looked good, but something was missing. The lids kind of blended into the bottoms too naturally due to how I made the red ribbon. So I decided to do a little bit of scroll work in gold along the edges of the lids.

That worked perfectly.

I was just starting to lacquer, feeling like I was done, when I decided... they say you can tell you have a good box instead of just a mass produced one because it is signed on the bottom. That tells you a master worked on it. Not that I'm a master, but I did like the idea of signing my boxes on the bottom. And that made me start thinking that I would love to put a Russian proverb inside the box. Russian proverbs are really big and I knew if I searched hard enough, I could find one that was encouraging. So I started searching for proverbs. These were the runner ups:

Лиха́ беда́ нача́ло.
Beginning is the big trouble.

Охо́та пу́ще нево́ли.
Desire is worse then compulsion.

Пе́рвый блин (всегда́) ко́мом.
The first pancake is (always) a blob.

Раз на раз не прихо́дится.
Each time it is different.

And the winner was: Век живи́ — век учи́сь.

Live for a century — learn for a century.

Then I started lacquering again and I learned some... very unfortunate news.

 The black ink that I used would smudge if I went over it more than once with a brush. This isn't too big of a problem because it will be easy enough to touch up the issue after the first round of lacquer dries, but it is good to know for the next time I try and do this.

So, at this point, the project is more or less done. I will add a picture of the final product as well as who ends up winning each of them (and the congratulations that I know they will deserve) once this weekend is over. And then I will start working on compiling the documentation for them.


The winners were:

Third Place: JP
Second Place: Pashalika Kanabala
First Place: Ose Silverhair

The third small one was given as a gift on the day of her coronation to Branwyn, Khatun of Aethelmearc in the fall of 2012 (and good friend of mine since High School).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Baba Yaga Does Germany

Some say that Baba Yaga is a terrible witch. Others say that she is a wise woman. The one thing everyone agrees upon is that trouble always follows when the mischievous Izbushka, her chicken legged hut, decides to wander the woods. On a night very similar to this night, Izbushka rose up on it's chicken legs and began to wander until the woods were no longer familiar. In the morning when Baba Yaga awoke, she made her way to the nearby town.

Within this town sat a poor musician. He spoke to anyone that would listen about his greatness, though no instrument did he have to prove himself.

“I can make the children dance! I can make cows give the sweetest milk! I can make the clouds pour rain onto the fields! For I am the greatest musician that has ever been.”

When Baba Yaga approached him, the man tried to dismiss the terrible looking stranger until he saw her reaching into her caftan. From within the sleeve of her coat she drew a battered flute which she then offered to the man.

“Your boasts are great, but I see you have no instrument to honor them. As a gift, I give you my flute. All I ask in return is your gratitude when next we meet.”

The musician scoffed at the old woman, but he accepted the gift and agreed to return the favor for her generosity.

For months the musician traveled from town to town. When he played, the children danced. When he played, the cows would give the sweetest milk. When he played, the clouds would pour rain upon the fields. He became famous for his boasts.

One day on his travels, he came to a town in desperate need. As his name preceded himself, he was approached by the Kniaz, the Viscount, of the area.

“Oh musician, we have heard much of your wondrous deeds. We could use your help. Our town is plagued with foul beasts that bite us night and day. If you could please help to remove them, we would reward you handsomely.”

The musician's chest swelled. “Of course I can do this. For I am able to make the children dance. I make cows give the sweetest of milk. I make the clouds pour rain upon the fields. For I am the greatest musician that has ever been!”

With that, the musician played his well traveled flute and began to lead the rats from the streets. The pests danced as they followed him out of town where he led them to a stream to drown. When he returned, the people were so grateful that they gathered their fortunes to give to the musician. The Kniaz even offered the musician his own daughter to marry.

That evening the strange old woman appeared once again before the musician. She knocked upon the door of his new home in the town. Instead of being greeted with gratitude, the musician threw the flute back in the old woman's face.

“Old woman, I owe you nothing. You giving me this haggard flute did not help me earn what I have now. It was my own talent and skill. Take back this filthy instrument and I shall purchase one that does me proper honor with my new found wealth.” The musician slammed the door in front of Baba Yaga, giving her none of the gratitude he had promised her.

Having now angered the Baba Yaga, she took the flute he had thrown back at her feet and placed it back within the sleeve of her caftan. “With this flute, you got what you desired.” She drew a golden flute encrusted with rubies out of her other sleeve. “With this flute, you will get was you deserve.”

The next morning when the musician woke, he left his house to see the most perfect flute for the greatest musician that has ever been. He took up the flute, thinking it a gift from the town, and began to play. To his horror, he could not stop playing the flute. Instead, he watched as the children of the town began to dance. He followed them as they left the town and each, one by one, danced into the river where they drowned. When the musician returned to the town, the Kniaz was waiting for him, along with the rest of the town, for none could make the children dance like this musician.

That morning, the musician hung for his deeds. And lucky for all of you, the mischievous Izbushka returned Baba Yaga home once more.

Story by Katrusha the Skomorokh

Kvas Documentation

Boiarynia Katrusha the Skomorokh
Kvas is known to be a very weak style of beer or mead that has been common in Eastern Europe for fifty centuries and can be compared to other forms of fermented grain beverage such as beer brewed with barley and rice wines. Due to a very low alcohol content (0.05-1.44%), kvas is considered a non-alcoholic beverage which explains why women are not allowed to get drunk but are instructed to drink a kvas each day, in public and at home, according to the Domostroi. As the drink is sometimes made with actual rye bread, it often contains unfiltered yeast and is a good source of energy.  

The first mention of kvas was in 989, in old Russian chronicles, where the Duke of Moscow turned his national Christian. As it was stated: “To distribute food, mead, and kvas to the people.” It is speculated, as honey was first brought into Russia not long before, that this was about the first time that kvas was made. Even with this mention, though, there are no recorded recipes until the Domostroi. It is possible that each group of people had their own recipes. Some were from straight grain and some were from bread. Records that have been found are much better for mead and vodka than they are with kvas, possibly because the amount of alcohol made it so it wasn't recorded for taxation purposes.

Many people argue that kvas couldn't possibly have been made using bread as the grain since most all beers used some form of malted grain. Because of this, it couldn't possibly have been a common drink in Kievan Rus as it is toted to have been. With this argument, many have to remember that there were many different types of kvas and kvas recipes out there, some using bread and some using actual raw grain. One recipe actually specifies to use as much grain and honey as your family could afford. As bread was a very important and near ritualistic food item, if it went stale it made sense to use what there was left in this manner. All the vitamins and nutrients were sucked into the actual drink itself which is why it was thought to be something women should drink as well as filled the belly if one didn't have much to eat. Certainly peasants would use their bread in this manner, mashing it fully into the kvas to get all the nutrients instead of wasting a single drop. Peasants, also, having only so much land they might not have the space to grow grain just for making kvas with. Being able to have your grain as a dual purpose, both bread and later into kvas, made much more sense. 
The Domostroi is a book that was written in the 16th century as a guide for nobles in how to properly run a household. It gives instructions for everything from rules and recipes to how to be an obedient wife and raise good children. Within the Domostroi, I have taken out a few passages that hopefully will help enlighten people a little further on this drink in particular and it's uses. Being a book from the 16th century, one has to remember that the first mention of kvas was in 989, so much has probably changed in that time. As I have a later period persona, this information is a little more pertinent to myself.   
In chapter 29: Similarly, she (the wife) should know how they (the servants) make beer, mead, vodka, weak beer, kvass, vinegar, and sour cabbage - every liquid normally used in cooking and breadmaking.   
Here we see that, although the actual brewery was only for the husband to work, the wife had to know how each thing was made since even kvas was used in the makings for breads, soups, stocks, and many other things. This shows kvas to be a very multi-purpose drink that plausibly starts with unfinished stale bread.   
In chapter 36: A women should drink either weak beer or kvass, both at home and in public.   
Alcohol was forbidden for women to drink, especially to the point of drunkenness. But kvas was seen not only as a hearty meal, but also non-alcoholic and was welcome for women to drink. This chapter continues stating that good Christian's are only to eat two meals a day, as more than that is gluttony. Drinking a glass of kvas in the morning when you are not allowed a meal was certain to fill you well for the day until supper.   
In chapter 54: (titled How to Preserve Food in the Cellar and the Icehouse) There you should also store cucumbers, pickled and fresh cabbage, turnips, other vegetables. . . apple kvass, bilberry juice, Rhenish wine, vodka, mead, fermented and unfermented beer, and ale.   
Kvas came in many different flavors. Sometimes mint or berries would be added or the water would be replaced with berry juice. This, of course, would all depend on the season and the wealth of who was making the kvas.   
In chapter 65: Ordinary kvass. To brew ordinary kvass, Take four parts honey and strain it until it is clear. Put it in a jar and ferment it using an ordinary soft loaf, without additional yeast. When it is done, pour it into a cask.   
A recipe in the Domostroi. This differs in the recipe I used as I added the bread to water and then strained away the bread so I could add the sweetener and more yeast. This particular recipe, although lacking in description as to how long, whether you need to warm the honey, or how exactly the soft loaf is used to ferment the honey, is still one of the few recipes for kvas that has been written down. Here are a few other recipes that I could find:  
"To make it one puts a pailful of water into an earthen vessel, into which one shakes two pounds of barley meal (or rye), half a pound of salt, and some honey, more or less according to the wealth of the family. This is placed in the evening in the oven with a moderate fire and stirred. In the morning, it is left for a time to settle, the clear liquid is poured off, and it is ready to drink in a few days." 
 --The Russian Peasant page 80 
 “With eight quarts water take 1 1/2 lb. malt, 1 lb. rye flour, 1 1/2 lb. sugar, 1/8 of a lb. mint leaves, half pepper pod, and half cake of yeast. Mix the malt and flour with boiling water and make a thick dough. Put into barely warm oven, and leave for the night. Next day dilute dough with eight quarts boiling water and pour into a wooden tub. Let stand for 12 hours, then pass through a cloth. Pour one quart into an enamel saucepan, put on fire, add 1 1/2 lb. sugar, and an infusion made with the mint leaves (resembling weak tea). Boil once, then take off fire, cool until just warm, and add the yeast previously diluted with one cup of this same warm liquid. Let stand in warm place until it begins to ferment; then pour it into the rest of the kvass in the wooden tub, and let stand until bubbles appear. Prepare clean bottles, putting one malaga raisin into each; pour in the kvass, cork the bottles, tie the corks with string to the necks of the bottles, and keep in a warm place for a day or two. Then put in a cold cellar.” ---R.C.B. A Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy

The recipe I used:

Stale light rye bread, cubed – 1lb
Water – 3 quarts
Active dry yeast – 2 ½ teaspoons
Water, lukewarm - ¼ cup
Sugar – 1 cup
Raisins – 2 tablespoons

First we dried out the already stale rye. Normally most all recipes call for the very dark black type of rye, but as I actually want to sample this and I'm not a fan of heavy ryes, I decided to go with the lighter type. Once it was dry, we boiled 3 quarts of water in our stock pot and crumbled the bread into the water. At that point, it was set aside, lightly covered with a towel in a cool dark area to rest overnight. 
When I woke the next morning, I started step two. All the bread needed to be strained out of the liquid and lightly pressed to get as much out as possible. The recipe mentions I should have 2.5 quarts of liquid in the end, but they also said to gently press the bread or else there would be to much sediment and the kvas would remain cloudy. I seemed not to get enough liquid out of the bread when I was straining it from the kvas as I have much less than that by at least ¾ quart. After straining, I took a pinch of sugar and the warm water and mixed it with the yeast and let it proof. After about 10 minutes, I added the proofed yeast as well as the rest of the sugar (most recipes call for honey, but with how things have been lately for the bees, sugar was much cheaper and since most of this recipe is base on the wealth of the household, it seemed appropriate). Everything was mixed together in the big pot and, once again, covered with a towel and allowed to sit.

As a side note here, that I thought humorous, the area that I let the kvas sit each time that was dark and cool was an area at the very center of my house: my fireplace. In Russia, most all homes also centered around the fireplace/oven area but never would they have allowed the fire to go out, as it was the woman's job to make certain that happened. A little bit ironic that I fermented my kvas in the exact area they would not have put theirs due to it being far from cool and dark.

The last real step, at this point, I did that evening. I strained the kvas once more and put all of it into a bottle to ferment with a handful of raisins. I was surprised, when straining the kvas, how much it had already carbonated in just 12 hours. Once fermenting was over, in about 4-5 days, there were two options to take. One was to carefully pour off the clear liquid into individual bottles and place it in the fridge without disturbing the yeast sediment. The other was to not worry about the sediment since it was sometimes kept because it added extra nutrients. I decided the later seemed more correct, so although I tried to be careful and not stir up the sediment, I wasn't specific of making sure that only the clear kvas managed to get into the bottles.

A huge thank you to my husband, Christopher of Anglespur, for helping me out with this one and giving me at least a base knowledge of brewing to help me along.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Russian Lacquer Boxes - The Beginning

My recent endeavor into the field of arts and sciences has been learning how to make Russian lacquer boxes for the winner of the A&S competition at War of the Roses, Barony of Concordia of the East Kingdom.

I am the most recent A&S champion, so I had to decide how to run the competition for my replacement as well as prizes to give out. Recalling previous A&S champions, I looked at the prizes that they had given: all were hand made and they were the epitome of what they did in the SCA. The woman who won with her scroll work hand made books as prizes. The woman who won with her full hand sewn outfit wove napkins for the winners. But what do I do? It was then that I realized it is not -what- I do but -who- I am. I'm Russian. And so, truly, the only answer to this question was to make something Russian.

So, I began looking into various styles of gifts. Khokhloma is a very traditional looking lacquer box painting technique, but when it began in a mass production style, it certainly wasn't period. So I began to investigate further since a beautiful box, even if it was Russian in style, would certainly be perfect for any sort of won prize.

The technique used to make these boxes is the same technique that was used for a long long time in icon painting in Russia. The technique of lacquer, base paint, more lacquer, then inlaying gold leaf or abalone shell, painting, and then more lacquer... yes, it has been around since icon paintings. And lacquer painting, in general, has been around since 1600BC in China in the very least. So, my conclusion being, the TECHNIQUE was there, but were the products?

The boxes weren't technically produced until the fall of Imperialist Russia when the Icon painters were out of a job and needed to make money. So they began developing these boxes. But is there proof it was never used in period?

Not so. Icon work shows that this technique was used, and more importantly, there are extant finds of Icons that were actually created in boxes that would open and the Icon was painted inside. So, just because they stopped painting Icons does not mean that this technique was not used.

Once I felt satisfied that this was a period style of technique, I decided to get to work on the boxes. The boxes typically used were paper mache instead of wood. The reason for this being that the boxes would be painted with the lacquer and between each layer they would be put in an oven to dry. This back and forth would normally warp wood, but the paper mache has no issue. And with the months worth of layers put on the boxes, they would be nearly indestructible.

I did not have time for the months of making the paper mache boxes and pressing them until they were compact and perfectly formed, so I purchased my boxes. And it appears the paints that were normally used were tempra or oil paint. Here are the boxes as I started the lacquering process.

So I purchased my lacquer and boxes and paints and set to work. First was putting a few layers of lacquer down as a base for the paint to lay on. This was a slightly long process because the lacquer kept soaking into the paper mache so it was taking longer to dry. But once the layers were down, I started painting.

And here was my first big mistake. I didn't realize the tempra I had purchased was water based. Which means it was just beading up on the lacquer and took at least 3 layers to be thick enough that you could no longer see the box color underneath. You can see in the picture here the honeycombing effect by the beading up of the paint.

I ended up putting on three layers each of the red and black before no longer being happy and pulling out my acrylics instead. I can understand why they weren't used. It is hard to get a smooth coat, so you need to do a lot more work with the lacquer in trying to even everything out before starting the next part of the project.

Right now, that is where I am. I have put about 5-10 layers over each of the acrylic base paints and after another 15-20, I will start painting the actual design onto each of the boxes. I then plan another 20-40 layers of acrylic on top of that before doing the polish step of getting the boxes to a mirror finish.

Actual documentation for the boxes will follow after I get the boxes finished.