After a few weeks and many coats of polyurethane, we get this.
Very shiny 🙂 In period, they would have waterproofed with linseed oil and I could have done that. My friend has poly so we used that.
Next we drive the stay for the press screw through the upper support. We did use a dremel to widen the hole a bit and I didn’t do as good of a job as I could have. There is a little bit of splintering but not too bad.
On the top side, we add the set screws.
Then we add some feet to the base plate.
Here is all the parts before we add the rods to make the frame. The foot of the press screw is just a set screw on the bottom.
We cut some PVC pipe that will provide some vertical support and protect the long screws.
The photo of the long screws inside of the PVC didn’t turn out. Here is the finished press.
I have not been an apprentice very long but one of the first thing my Laurel said to me is “people think you lack focus.” My response was “then people aren’t paying attention.” I wanted to lay out what I work on, why I work on it, and how they are interconnected.
Let’s start with my history studies. I decided on an Anglo-Saxon persona when I was listening to the History of England podcast and the British History podcast. The earlier podcast at started talking about Alfred the Great. And I was struck by, “why have I never heard of this guy before?” My wife and I loved our visit to Bath. So it was a natural to make my persona from there. At one of my first events, I asked my mentor why there are so many “make and take” classes but relatively few pure history classes? I don’t remember the answer but I then decided I wanted to deep dive into what the late Anglo Saxon world was like.
Before joining the SCA, I started learned to do stained glass. I then branched out into fused glass. As much as I love it, it is a modern art form that I am doing. Did Classical and Medieval people do fused glass? Yes. But I don’t have the means to do it the way they did it. I make plates, tokens, and medallions but they are very modern. So I looked for another art form I could do that was period.
At the first RUM I attended, I took some classes on cordials. It was just after our fire. Cordials didn’t take a lot of space or work. I leapt in. I made scores of cordials. Some of them got to be pretty good. But again, as easy as cordials are, most are not period. So the search continued.
I had all of these small bits of cordials around. What can I do with all of this alcohol? Vinegar! Few people were doing it and it was very important to all eras of civilization. You cooked with it. You preserved food with it. You drank it. You cleaned with it. To date, I have made vinegar out of meads, wines, cordials, beers, ales, and ciders. I have tried to make vinegar out of anything with alcohol in it.
It turns out there is not much depth to vinegar. It was important. There are whole industries that revolve around it. But the actual making of it isn’t too complex. But my vinegar obsession is directly related to my cordial making. And the next phase of my journey with this is directly related again. I want to make my own wine and turn that into vinegar. I will eventually grow my own grapes and turn that into wine then to vinegar. These things are related.
All along the path, I am looking at how does this fit with my persona? Is Oswyn of Baðon a historian? A vintner? A glazier? He was educated at Bath Abbey. He knows his history. I don’t think he was a glazier. But maybe a vintner and a vinegarie.
I was asked about a year ago if I would like to sell my glassware as part of the Starlight Syndicate. I was flattered. Several of my closest friends are part of that. But it was clear that I couldn’t do it. Glass, at least, what I do, is too expensive. I would have to sell for ~$100 or more and have $1000s in inventory. I couldn’t afford that. But it did get me thinking, what could I sell?
I can’t sell my cordials. And I can’t sell my vinegars. Both would take a lot of licensing and inspections. Then it hit me, paper. We make handpainted awards, so why not handmade paper? And it occurred to me that Oswyn Swann might be a stationer. So we are going down that road now.
All of this looks like a mess. To some extent, it is solving the maze of my personae. Sometimes you follow a promising path in a maze but it turns out it is a dead end. If you step back a bit, you will see it is all interrelated. It all goes towards, “what can I give back? What can I contribute?” I give away a lot of what I work on. Some have claimed or implied I only do it for some sort of fame or glory. Do I enjoy the whatever fame comes with it? Of course I do. Who doesn’t like acknowledgement for what they do? But I don’t do it for the fame or glory. I do it because when I needed it most, the SCA was there. The people in the SCA were there. What can I do to make it a better place? That is why I do what I do. That is what they have in common.
My quest to make hand-made medieval paper has led me to the part where, before you make the thing, you have to make the tools to make the thing. While it is perfectly fine not to use a press to make hand-made paper, most places had and have (depending on medieval or modern) one. This is the documentation of making my paper press.
I started with trying to figure out how to make one. This video was very helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVESW-KvqEg
So this isn’t going to be a medieval style press but really who has access to that kind of wood and manpower? Here is what a medieval paper press might have looked like.
First step was to draft out what this thing might look like based on the video. I knew that the largest sheet I would make in the early part of doing this would be 11 x 14. The felts would be 13 x 16 then to have enough room to help wick the water away. The press plate would therefore be 14 x 17 so we didn’t have to be exactly center. Because of the rods supporting the press, those plates would need to be 17 x 20.
Off to the hardware store. I purchased two 48″ x 48″ birch plywood boards. I would have loved to get a 48″ x 96″ board but neither I or my friend could get that in our vehicles. We also got some 1″ PVC pipe for the supports. My friend had some threaded rods, wood glue, and all the tools. I also ordered a 12″ press screw.
I chose birch for a few reasons. It needed to be a hard wood to have some wear and water resistance. I had initially thought mahogany. The best I could find locally was 6″ boards. While I am told joinery is not a big deal, I just didn’t want to deal with that. So birch is somewhat water resistant and is pretty smooth. That was important too.
First we cut the 20″ lengths. We will need 2 of everything because this is 3/4″ plywood and we want to glue it together to make 1.5″ (or close to it) to ensure we withstand the pressures.
A few cuts later and we have our four 17 x 20 boards for the plates.
We then cut the 14″ length into two 14 x 17’s for the press plate.
This is what the second 48 x 48 was for. The paper needs something to dry on. In my model, the Europeans used drying lines in an attic. That isn’t very portable. Indian and Chinese papermakers brushed the pressed paper onto a flat, heated surface to dry. the smooth surface of the birch would be great for that. So we cut the other 48 x 48 board into 12 x 16 boards. One 11 x 14 sheet or two 8 x 10 (or slightly larger) could fit on each board to dry. Ideally, cuckling should be less by drying flat. We will see.
Then we sand the edges just to get the splinters from cutting off.
Then we glue. There was a slight bow to the plywood. So lots of glue. This thing is neat. I imagine you could use to to spread mayo on a big party sub.
Then we clamp it all down and let the glue dry. That is it for part 1. In a week or so, we take the clamps off. Then some polyurethane, drill some holes, etc.
I have been thinking about my personae lately. And I have figured out how they are connected.
If I did a Roman persona, the name would be Marcus Aemilius Vivianus. Mostly because I just like those names. Vivianus is in honor on my WoW character, Vivacity, a draenei restoration shaman. With a name like that, this would be a minor sub-family of the Aemilii. There is some evidence of a Vivianus in Roman Britain. I then envision that this Aemilius Vivianus was a Roman solider in Britain. Either he or one of his descendents or freed slaves took the additional cognomen of Cygnus. When the Roman troops were recalled from Britain, this Vivianus Cygnus remained in Britain.
So from that time to the time of Alfred the Great, this family lived in the Somerset area but I don’t know what they may have done. But the Swan as a symbol was adopted somewhere along the way. When Alfred issued the Charter establishing Bath as a burh, Oswyn’s family was one of founding families of the new port city of Bath.
From the 10th century on to the 16th century, the family took the last name Swann and the fortunes changed. Where they were once at least a lesser nobility (being reeves in Bath), they solidly landed in the raising middle class. I personally will blame the Normans and the drop off in prestige of Bath for that. It is in the early 1500’s that Bath sees a brief revival before the Dissolution of Monastries by Henry VIII. Then in 1590, Elizabeth grants a new charter to Bath and the spa recovers.
Oswyn Swann is probably a bit before Elizabeth. Part of that is I don’t particularly care for ruffs and such. There are some great artwork of Pieter Aertsen’s that I think captures the look I think Oswyn Swann has. So the main question is, does Dutch middle class fashion equal English middle class fashion? I don’t know the answer to that.
So around 1595, a technical school was established in Bristol which in time becomes the University of Bristol, and another branch, the University of Bath. It looks like papermaking was happened around London but certainly these nascent schools would need paper. Before there was a formal school, there would have been early education attempts. And Bristol being a major port, there would need for paper for charters, bills of sale, the churchs and such, etc. I am going to assume Oswyn Swann is active in the Somerset region as a paper merchant sometime between 1500 and 1560.
The last Oswyn is probably an offshoot of the main family around the time of the Conquest. As he is the least developed of the personae, I will just let him be for a while. The connection will come.
I only have a few readers of this blog. So when one of them asks that I write about something, I guess I should listen. The post will wander a bit but it is all related. I promise.
A friend mentioned recently, ” The SCA takes spoons, being nice takes spoons, being in a hostile environment takes spoons . . . .” I will admit long events do wear on me but I don’t think they cost me spoons. I do often say my Baggins side is in the ascendant and Oswyn is an extrovert and Sean is not. At those times, I want to go home. But at the end of the day, I feel that I usually end up with more spoons after most events.
One of my favorite books to read is the Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two men, along with their supporters, spiritual siblings, and more, have seen the worst humanity has to offer and give wonderful advise on how to deal with it. It is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is not filled with anger, bile, and retaliation. It is filled with compassion, love, and joy. In one of the sections, called Generosity, Bishop Tutu speaks more than the Dalai Lama does. He says many meaningful things.
“We are fundamentally good. The aberration is the not good person; the aberration is the bad person. We are made for goodness.”
“I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. . . and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.”
“You can’t survive on your own. You need other people to be human. We speak of Ubuntu. A person is a person through other persons.”
And lastly, the Archbishop described generosity as “becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all around us.”
I could probably quote the whole book. There is some much good in here about the power of compassion and that the pursuit of happiness is rooted in knowing yourself and acknowledging the humanity in every one else.
So for me, giving, be it my time, my art, whatever, is a source of joy. It can be tiring but it is ultimately worth it.
So in It starts with research, I showed the model I did of a 16th century European papermill. I put up that display at Dragonshire 12th Night / Festival of Maidens and I was honored to get Mistress Gianneta as my patron for this endeavor.
Let’s back up a bit. Why am I doing this? About 8 months ago, maybe close to a year but I don’t think so, Dr Best asked if I was interested in joining the Starlit Syndicate. I was flattered. Many of my close friends are part of it; Lucretia, Gunnar, Heather, and yes even Dr Best. He pointed out that the shop has generated several laurels which is indeed true. The issue? What should I sell? I guessed that he thought about my glass work. I declined. One I wasn’t going to Pennsic that year. Two I don’t have any inventory to sell. I did some number crunching and I just don’t think I can sell my glass. It costs between $50 to $75 for me to make a glass bowl. I would have to sell them for at least $100 and I just don’t think people will pay for that. Plus I would have to have many $100s to possibly $1000s of inventory to sell even a small number of bowls. I just can’t afford to do that.
So I looked at what could I sell? I can’t sell my cordials. And I can’t sell my vinegars. Both would require licensing and inspections and then to sell across state lines would require more regulations. That is not worth the hassle. I already decided glass was out. Plus, the glass I do is really not medieval. So if I wanted to sell something, it would have to be something new. I didn’t want to be full time merchant but it would work well for my Oswyn Swann persona. So I want to do something to give and something to sell. See Words on Paper for more.
The plan then. I got a papermaking kit for Yule. Most parts are there. I need to rig up a cheap press. Ideally, it should be a screw press. I also need a drying method. The papermill display used a drying loft. But that is not very portable and takes up more space than I have. But I do need to dry many sheets at one time. I could build a drying box. It is still not portable. But there is an older technique that would work well. I can get flat surfaces and either heat them or let the sun do the work. And I need to look into a glazing hammer. But I have everything I need to do a proof of concept.
The plan is to pull some sheets. There is a small amount of skill needed. Once that goes well, upgrade equipment. Then I will start with already beaten fiber with sizing. Then move back to already beaten fiber without sizing and adding it as I need to. I might on occasion create my own fiber but that requires even more equipment and time. Things would have to go very well for me to afford that.
Watermarking will be a thing and branding as well. I have brands already decided 🙂
There is a Laurel Prize Tournament coming up and I decided that my research into this new endeavor would be a good entry. I want to be clear, my model making skills, or lack thereof, are not part of the display. The display is to help you visualize the process. So, yes most of the model is purchased. I even thought about buying the LEGO medieval water wheel setup instead. Anyway, just follow me along here.
Here is my medieval water mill plant. Through the doors, carts would bring the raw materials in, rags, castoffs from the textile industry, bones and hide, etc.
The water wheel drives a shaft that trips a series of hammers to break the cloth into fibers. There may also be some processing with lime or chalk, depending on the needs. The mill would use a source of clear water for this, a spring perhaps, not the river or stream driving the wheel.
The mascerated fibers are put in a vat with more water. A vatman pulls sheets of paper out of the vat with a mould and deckle. There is skill here. The vatman needs to know when there is too much material or not enough on the mold. There is a small jiggle that needs to be done to make sure the fibers are evenly spread and to help start the “lock.” Handmade papers in this fashion should basically have no “grain.” Grain is caused by the mechanical process that modern papers are made. The constant shaking causes the fibers to align. Handmade papers should not have this issue.
After the paper has drained for a little bit (a few minutes only), a coucher takes the mould and “couches” the sheet on to a post. Felt is spaced between the papers. The felt helps wick away some moisture but primarily is there to give support to the paper. This stack is called a post. When the post is big enough, it will be taken to a screw press to expel more of the water out of the post. Ideally, there is a 3 person crew. The vatman pulls the sheet, one coucher takes the mould when ready to couch that sheet, a third coucher gives the vatman a fresh mould. Each coucher is moving between vat and post. When the post is ready, all three people will move it into position and operate the press.
I don’t have a model of a screw press. But once the paper has sat in the press for a while (many hours, maybe a day or more), the post is taken out. The sheets are carefully separated from the felts and hung to dry. Other methods of paper making would dry in different ways. The Indians would stick the paper to a hot stone wall to dry. The Japanese and Chinese had easel-like racks. Europeans like the drying loft method. Paper is hung from thin strands of horsehair in a warm loft to finish drying.
Here is everyone working together.
After drying in the loft, the job isn’t done. The paper might then be polished to close up the pores. These was done with warm stones, warm glass, or eventually, a glazier hammer. Supposedly, an experienced glazier could do 6 reams per day. Assuming measurements are the same, that is 3000 sheets per day. The paper might be sized. A thin layer of glue or gelatin (or depending on the culture, starch or clay) is spread over the sheet and then more drying.
After all of the drying, the paper can be sold. It might be sold as is, or cut to size as a customer requests.
I have now a papermaking kit and in the near future will start.