9th Century Shield Smithing | Lord Halfdan’s Account

9th Century Shield Smithing | Lord Halfdan’s Account


History

Roundshields were commonplace through the viking age (8th to 11th century). They measured around 90cm in diameter, but were as small as 70cm, and as large as 94cm. The shields were designed to cover the wielder from their knees to their collarbone or chin. 

    The shields were constructed from butted fir, pine, or spruce planks at a thickness of 8-12mm. To hold the planks in place, three iron bands  ran the length of the shield at various intervals along the back. These were attached with broadhead nails, and the centre one acted as the handle. The disk was planed from the centre out so that the edges were thinner and lighter. This made the shield easier to wield. Often the centre would be 8-12mm thick, where the edge would only be 6mm.

    In the centre was an iron boss, often 150mm wide and 3-5mm thick. Some had a neck and nob, used for catching and potentially breaking the blades of swords. Where there wasn’t a metal handle, a wooden handle ran the length of the shield, passing behind the boss. A roundshield had one strap that ran across the shield so that it could be worn across the shoulder and back. Unlike other forms of shield, there were no straps that went around the wielder’s arm.    

The shield was edged with rawhide, sewn on wet and allowed to dry. As it dried, it would pull the boards of the shield tighter and strengthen the construction. It also helped prevent incoming strikes from splitting the shield. There are accounts of iron-edged shields, but little evidence to support this. The shields were also faced, meaning they had a layer of linen or leather adhered to the front. Often this was done with glues made from animal fats, or other connective tissues. Depending on the construction, and material used, round shields weighed from 3 to 8kg.

    Round Shields were effective defensive tools, but also used offensively in a pinch. The edge could be used to punch, or be swung to strike an opponent. In some accounts, the shield was thrown, especially to trip a fleeing opponent. With that said, these moves are illegal under SCA combat rules (for good reason).

Halfdan’s Shields : Practical Vs Decorative

The shields I’ve constructed were built based on their purposes. Practical shields are constructed from plywood. The three practical shields (seen in the comparison images detailed later) are 12mm plywood, giving them a weighty feel. They are cut in disks, with a hole in the centre for the grip and boss. The disks are planed out from the middle, so that they are lighter and thinner at the edge. This makes the shields lighter, and easier to wield.

After the disc is cut and shaped, the hardware is attached. I sourced the bosses from second hand pans, metal lids, plates or bowls, and attached them with trimmed and clenched nails. The handles were made from refuse pellet wood, rounded in the centre for a grip, and bolted on so that it passes through the centre of the shield behind the boss. The mid-sized practical shield has a belt attached, so that one may wear the shield on their back. 

Once the hardware is attached, the shields can be faced. I couldn’t get my hands on linen, so instead I used calico. I cut and hemmed a hole in the centre to fit the boss, then painted the shield face with a layer of PVA glue. Finally, I stretched the calico over the front and stapled it along the edge. Any area that isn’t painted over is coated with linseed oil (including the boss) to prevent rot and rust.

The last stage is the edging. These practical shields are edged with pipe insulation and duct-tape (as they are designed for youth armoured combat). Thanks to the shape of the pipe, no other attachments are required. 

Ideally practical shields are lightweight, and strong. My lightest shield is the small 54cm diameter one – closer in size to a buckler. It only weighs 1.4kg. It’s the oldest, and uses slightly different materials for its construction.

The white shield is 80cm, and 3.9kg, a good size although slightly cumbersome. The largest is 92cm, and 4.9kg, which is usable, but only in short bursts (which isn’t ideal, the point of a shield is to prevent combat occuring in a short burst…)

The decorative shields were constructed similarly, but with a more generous weight as they weren’t (and aren’t) intended for fighting with. The discs were originally a square of planks butted together with glue, with two planks running in the opposite direction across the back and nailed in place to keep the planks bound together.

The discs are cut out, with a hole cut for the boss, similarly to the plywood practical shields.

Next the hardware goes on, meaning the boss, handle, and a belt if required. All hardware, on both kinds of shield, are attached with trimmed and clenched broadhead nails.

Because the planks are salvaged, they are often slightly different thicknesses, so the front of the shield isn’t flat enough to be faced. Instead, it’s left raw for painting, or oiling. The back, and edges are generously oiled.

This image shows the front of the shield, with nails hammered through to attach each plank to the backing plank. The boss, just like other hardware, is attached with broadhead nails.

The final stage is edging. On these shields, I’ve used upholstery offcuts and furniture tacks. The leather is soaked in warm water and pulled over the edge and tacked in place. As the leather dries, it shrinks and pulls the shield tighter, making the construction firmer.

The decorative shields way more, up to 8kg. They are far thicker, with some planks around the 20mm mark. I’ve only ever made two, both 90cm diameter.

These two images compare the final results of the decorative, and practical shields. The far left is the largest practical shield, 92cm diameter, at 4.9kg. The second from the left, the red one, is decorative, 90cm, and 8kg. The smaller white one is practical, 80cm, and 3.9kg. The smallest is 54cm and 1.4kg. (note: all diameter measurements include edging. Padding edging adds about 2cm to measurements)

All but the white shield are painted, the white one is only faced. (I’d like to mention that the design of the decorative shield is not my own.) The smallest is painted, and unfaced. Notice the grooves between the planks on the decorative shield, while the others are all plywood. As far as hardware goes, the bosses on the two larger practical shields are an old flying pan, and a second hand lid. The smallest shield uses a tin plate, and the decorative shield uses a bowl glued onto the shield. Three handles are wooden, one is metal – salvaged from a chandelier. The straps are all second hand belts. 

Historical Deviation

My method is not 100% historically accurate. For practical shields I’ve used plywood. There were laws which stated a shield should be constructed of laminated wood, but there is no archaeological evidence to support this.

  • My plywood is on the thicker side, with most shields being 8mm.
  • My bosses aren’t iron, but rather second-hand metal plates, lids etc, often steel. They also measure a tad larger, at 200mm, not the historical 150mm.
  • On my decorative shields, I’ve used tacks to secure the leather edging. Historically, the edge was stitched on, rather than nailed.
  • Only my decorative shields have bracing, but instead of iron bands I’ve used planks. They also run perpendicular to the handle. Bracing was usually placed parallel to the handle. On the note of planks, I don’t know the wood from the pallets I’ve used, though I suspect it’s pine.
  • Other mentions include: PVA in place of animal glues, and, obviously, powertools.

Wrapping Up

These aren’t all the shields I’ve made, just the more recent ones. I have plans and sketches for shields to come, including more practical shields that are thinner and lighter. 

Shields are just as much an artwork, as they are a defensive tool. If not for the heraldry that goes on them, then the hours and days spent crafting them. Just like a tapestry, painting, or stained glass, they require precision, detail, effort, a rigorous creative process, patience, and care. The more of these one has, the better their artwork will come out – the better you look after your shield, the better it will look after you.

A Champion Entry!

The winning entry for the Arts and Sciences championship this year was a couple of delicious recipes from Portugal, submitted by the Honorable Lady Joana

Picture of custard tarts displayed on medieval plates, with a medieval glass, on a red tablecloth
Delicious Portugese custard tarts

She has kindly allowed us to publish her documentation, which can be found here.

Sunday dance classes at the hall

On the 24 of April, a number of new dancers were present, so we could practice those dances that need 6 or 8 people. Accordingly, the three dances we were:  Upon a summers day, If all the world was paper, and Dance de Cleves

There are some You Tube versions of these below, for those wanting to aid their memories or follow along at home. There are always some variations in steps and the floor plan, but I think all would be helpful.
Dance de Cleves
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le5RwjTQG1s
Some minor differences probably to cope with the size of the hall.  They turn before doing the hearts and flowers and reverse direction halfway through.

If all the world was paper
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3t5w5WR96U
There is a bit of mucking around at the beginning and the first chorus hay is done differently. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aenhHdGna1Q
The first chorus hay starts with swapping with your partner before going
across the set.  We go across the set and then we swap with our partner.
Note their sidings are a bit more elaborate than what we do

Upon a summer’s day
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIMz_NQxQ5w
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUO4T5G7Ue0
It’s pretty much how we do it except for the sidings

PGC2019: Challenge Complete

The (extended) Persona Gubbins Challenge has come to a close. Final entries were accepted up until midnight on October 31st.  


Some statistics about the Challenge entries

Number of individual entrants:     9
Most popular culture of entries:    Norse
Most popular century of entries:   16th
Most popular category:                 Food and Drink
Most popular single entry:            Games box

Artisan Recognition

Every artisan who accepted the challenge and shared their work was awarded a special token at Golden flight 2020.   

A pile of red glass beads, with multicoloured glass decorations

Those who completed three projects (from at least two distinct categories) received a small period sewing kit in recognition of their endeavours.  

Contents of a small period sewing kit (felt tower with 3 fine steel needles, linen thread on a wood spool, leather thread puller, thimble, beeswax, 4 pairs of hooks and eyes, and a thread cutter) photographed in an ornate frame

 Artisans who completed five projects (again from at least two distinct categories) were given a period spice kit as an additional token.

A spice kit including sugar, salt, cinnamon, anise, a nutmeg, pepper, cloves, a small amount of poudre forte, and a small spoon.

Some of our local Southron Gaard Laurels had generously offered to award small prizes or tokens to the entry of their choice.


We hope that this challenge has inspired you to explore items of material culture related to your persona, so that you are able to ‘use’ your persona more easily at events.

PGC2019: THL Joana de Bairros’s 1520s Portuguese silk dress

Category: With silken coats, and caps, and golden rings, with ruffs, and cuffs, and farthingales, and things.  A garment your persona may have worn.

Purpose:  

I bought some beautiful red silk/wool blend and, as there are many red Portuguese dresses in the pictures of the 1520s, I thought that this was a good plan to keep up with the fashions!  I also wanted to try something in keeping with the St Auta altarpiece dresses.  I did not want to make one specific dress but incorporate a number of the features seen in this painting.

Martyrdom of St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, Master of St Auta



 Materials used
:

  • 7m silk/wool blend
  • Under 1m of cotton/linen canvas and white cotton
  • Shot green/grey/gold silk
  • Lots of gold and wine coloured trim
  • 2 rolls of gold embroidered trim
  • Metal eyelets
  • Cotton tape for hemming
  • Red cord for lacing 

Method:

While my other Portuguese dress has a kirtle underneath I wanted this dress to be worn alone for my personal comfort.  While many of the St Auta dresses appeared to open at the front, for aesthetic reasons I preferred to have the openings at the side back which can be seen in extant Italian gowns, especially Eleanor of Toledo’s.  The Portuguese portrait of Queen Catherine as St Catherine is also clearly laced at the back and this dates from the late 1520s/early 1530s.

I used the pattern for my previous dress and cut out two front and back bodice pieces out of the cotton canvas as interlining. I then cut out the bodice in a piece of thin cotton batting.  I zigzaged these three pieces together to make an inner support layer. 

I cut out a bodice with seam allowance from the red silk and whip stitched this by hand over the canvas layer.  I then whip stitched the cotton lining in place.

Angus put the eyelets in for me but I then couched over them by hand so they blended into the silk and for extra reinforcement.

I sewed the trim around the neckline.  This trim placement can clearly be seen on the back of the beheaded lady in the red dress at the bottom of the St Auta altarpiece and on Queen Catherine’s dress.  The trim matched the colour of the silk perfectly and while I can’t say it is specifically Portuguese it looks fabulous. 

The skirt is four gored panels which are machine sewed together.  This is then box pleated (by hand) to the bodice which is consistent with the Queen Catherine dress. I hemmed the skirt by machining wide cotton bias tape to the bottom. I then folded this inside the skirt and machined in place.  I machined the trim on top of this on the outside of the skirt.  This was because I was running short on time and even as I write this I have had to check multiple times how it was put together so it is not obvious.

I wanted to do sleeves like those on one of the St Auta side panels

These are fairly full with the opening down the back of the arm secured with ties. It is then tied
on to the bodice.  I was fascinated that these sleeves and one in the centre of the 11000 Virgins painting appear to have a turned back cuff that has a wide fancy trim on it.  The sleeves also appear to be lined in a different colour to the rest of the dress.
 

I found a beautiful gold/grey/green silk in my stash which worked beautifully with the silk and trim so I lined the sleeves in that.  

On the turned back cuff I attached some wide gold-work style trim I found at Spotlight and attached the red/gold trim down the opening of the sleeves and used it on the bodice as loops to tie the sleeves to.
 

I cut a two inch strip out of the sleeve lining silk and then, by hand, whip stitched it closed.  I cut this into lengths and attached an aglet to each end of these lengths to make ties.  These I attached down the length of the sleeve opening when I attached the lining. I tied them together to make the sleeves.  I made some others as ties at the top of the sleeve so it could be attached to the bodice.
 

I made a sash out of the same shot silk and put some of the wide trim (from the sleeve cuff) on the ends of it and added gold fringing. 

Verdict:

I love this dress and enjoyed wearing it to the Spring Feast at Gildenwick.  I think in the next version I will alter the cut of the sleeves slightly so the opening is more visible at the back of my arm and the cuff is more parallel to my wrist.  I am enjoying my forays into Portuguese clothing as it is pretty and comfy!  It worked well with my new Portuguese hat too!

Useful links: 

PGC2019: THL Joana de Bairros’ Portuguese Hat

Category: With scarfs, and fans, and double change of bravery, With amber bracelets, beads, and all this knavery.  An accessory your persona may have owned, made, used, or gifted.

Purpose:

There are many hats in the Portuguese paintings of the 1520s, in particular they are seen all over the St Auta Altarpiece where many of the female figures are wearing a relation of  a flat cap.  The hat I particularly liked was in Gregorio Lopes’s Visitation painting as it was well blinged up!  I had already made a version of the pink dress for the Baronial A&S Championship and made a version of the hat but it wasn’t quite right so I wanted to make one that was more in keeping with the portrait.  I spent a long time staring at the image to get a sense of what was happening with this hat and talked to Mistresses Isabel Maria and Cristia about it.  The consensus was that it was a kind of split brim arrangement that was sewed up on to the side of the hat.  Much paper was used to get a sense of how it worked.

Materials used:

  • A $2 shop pirate hat.  By taking the pirate fabric off it I was left with a ‘felt’ like base
  • Black velvet to cover the hat and make the folds on the hat.  I picked velvet as many of the St Auta hats look like they are made from velvet as does the one in the image above.  
  • Pearl and gold buttons – I managed to get the same design in two different sizes.  While there aren’t pearls on the hat in the image I like them and the buttons were the most appropriate looking ones I found
  • Pearl and gold bead aglets that I made myself using some oval shaped gold beads, plastic pearls and earring pins.  I decided to interpret the spiky bits on the hat as aglets as they are a common feature of 16th century hats.  Using the pearl and gold beads allowed me to match the buttons too!
  • A vintage filigree ‘gold’ and pearl brooch
  • A very small amount of gold silk to line the split brim
  • Black thread and a robust needle


Methods used:

  • I cut out a round of black velvet a little bigger than the hat base and ran a gathering stitch around the edges of the circle.
  • I pulled the gathering stitch so the material fitted over the round of the hat and hand sewed it to the inside of the hat.
  • I made a 10cm strip with black velvet on one side and the gold silk on the other.  I sewed this on the machine for ease of use.
  • I cut this strip into six panels that were long enough that when pressed flat against the hat reached the top of the brim and folded over the edge of the hat base.  These were sewed inside the hat all the way around the hat with cuts in the edge so they sat flat.
  • In the gap between each panel of velvet and silk I sewed three buttons with a big one in the middle and two smaller ones on either side.
  • I made the aglets out of earring wires and beads and used my pliers to create loops in the wire.
  • I sewed these aglets in fours on either side of the middle button  
  • I hand sewed the gold brooch it was on the front side of the hat like in the original image.


Verdict:

It is so pretty and much more in keeping with the portrait than my first attempt.  I didn’t count on there being so much bulk inside the hat with the edges of the panels sewing into it so it doesn’t fit quite as comfortably as I would prefer but it still works. 

 

Additional images

PGC2019: Maestra Isabel Maria’s Vasquina

 Category: With silken coats, and caps, and golden rings, with ruffs, and cuffs, and farthingales and things.  A garment your persona may have worn. 

Red linen vasquina

Inspiration:

Both versions of Juan de Alcega’s Libro de Geometria, Pratica, y Traca (1580 and 1589) contain several cutting diagrams for vasquinas, which I interpret to be a skirt that can be worn as an underlayer (ie a petticoat), or as an outer layer for non-court styles.

As I am refreshing my camping wardrobe, and want clothing that will be wearable at increasingly warm Canterbury Faires, I chose to make a linen version of this garment to complement my existing woolen skirts.

Pattern

Alcega has numerous cutting diagrams showing the most efficient way to cut this garment out of different widths of fabric, for example:


Construction

I adapted the pattern from Alecga and constructed it using machine sewing for the initial long construction seams, and hand sewing for finishing the seams, hem, waistband, and eyelets.

The back is pleated, using knife pleats, into the waistband, while the front is kept mostly flat, for a flattering line over the stomach.  To allow for maximum flexibility of use (and to fit pockets conveniently underneath), I chose to have dual side openings closed with a lace threaded through eyelets.

Red linen skirt side closure with a red cord threaded through 4 hand sewn eyelets, and tied in a bow

Verdict

It is lovely having another linen skirt to wear in warm weather.  Additionally, the dual openings allow access to multiple pockets, but also permit adjustment to suit both what I am wearing, and body fluctuations.

However, I do think it is a bit plain and intend to add multiple stripes of a different red fabric around the hem.

Resources

  • Tailor’s Pattern Book 1589” by Juan de Alcega, translated by Jean Pain and Cecilia Bainton
  • Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age” by Marcelin Defourneaux
  • A. LaPorta, avocational historian and tailor https://www.facebook.com/alaportahistorian

PGC2019: Meisterin Christian Baier’s Pearl and Garnet Goldhaube

Category: An accessory your persona may have owned, made, used, or gifted. “With scarfs, and fans, and double change of bravery, With amber bracelets, beads, and all this knavery.

A gold silk goldhaub, decorated with small garnet and pearl beads


Persona period inspiration and use:

Goldhaubes were the coifs / “hairnets” worn by women of the 16th C Saxon court.  The dowry of Magdalene of Saxony lists a number of haubes, most with pearls and some with metal ornaments, or spangles. At least one of these haubes was noted as having been made by Magdalene’s mother, the Duchess, so this could be a project that a noble woman might make for herself or for a family member or friend.Christian is not fond of hats and headwear, but finds these haubes are generally the least annoying appropriate hair covering.  

This haube is intended to match an under-construction red velvet gown with guards of yellow and white silk brocade.



Design, Materials and Construction: 

These haubes were variously constructed, some appear to be made from embroidered or patterned fabric, some from cords knotted or constructed into a net; illustrations suggest that these were less likely to be made using more traditional hair-netting techniques like sprang, however men in this period wore “hairnets” which do seem to be made more often in those techniques.  Haubes were usually made of gold cords and/or narrow wares, or gold fabrics, often patterned in black; and were usually embellished with pearls, spangles and other ornaments.

Materials: gold metal-thread net fabric, lined with silk, pearls of two colours, garnets, metal thread, and gold cord. The haube is lined with fine bright yellow silk to both ensure the haube more closely tones with the brocade of the gown’s brocade, and to hide “fake” hair used to imitate haristyles of the period.

Construction: the fabric was embellished with pearls, cords, and semiprecious stones; lined with silk, and attached to a decorative band also decorated with pearls and garnets.


Reference:

  • 1526 Nürnberg wedding record:  H. Doege, “Das von Questzische Hochzeistbüchlein, 1526”, Waffen und Kostümkunde, 1922. 
  • Schulordnungen, schulbücher, und pädagogische miscellaneen aus den landen deutscher zunge: Im auftrage der Gesellschaft für deutsche erziehungs- und schulgeschichte, Band 34.  Translated here: https://jillwheezul.livejournal.com/tag/magdalena%20of%20saxony
  • Goldhaubes in Textiler Hausrat, Kleidung und Textilien von Nurnberg, 1500 – 1650 by Jutta Zander-Seidel, p.119-125.

PGC2019: Isabel Maria’s Alquerque Board

 Isabel Maria shares project for the category of “what revels are in hand? Is there no play, To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?” 

A wooden board, with the geometric design of an Alquerque board painted on it

Purpose

Despite having a good selection of SCA period games, I really wanted some more specifically Spanish games to add to my repertoire.  It became necessary to do some research to find quintessentially Spanish games.  Early on I learned about the different styles of playing cards, and eventually managed to acquire a modern set of them, but that was not enough.  So I asked “what board games were played in 16th Century Aragon, Catalan or even Portugal?”

These questions lead me to the game of Alquerque.  We have proof of it being played in the 13th Century, but things get rather more sparse thereon out.  However, it is generally accepted as having been introduced to the New World, where it was promptly adapted to suit the locals tastes, creating the game of kolowis awithlaknannai.  With that in mind, it seems reasonable that it would still be known in Spain during the waning years of the 16th Century. 

Construction & Shopping

Simple, solid pine board stained to make it look like more expensive wood, and mimic period board games.  The geometric design was carefully measured out before being drawn on in pencil and carved out. The carved design was then painted with gesso in preparation for painting.  In order to satisfy Isabel María’s preferences for surface ornamentation, additional decorations will be taken from a variety of 16th century game boards and combined before being added to the carved areas of the game board.

The game requires 12 counters for each player.  I play the game with 24 pewter jettons (12 portcullis side up and the other 12 with the jester up) until I find some better tokens.

Verdict

A fun wee game that can tax the brain after a hard days camping.  Goes well with a light Spanish wine and small quantities of consequence free gambling.