Friday, January 15, 2016

The Kindness of Strangers (friends too!)

I've been struggling to get motivated to revise and expand my A&S project to submit at Midwinter. I'm researching sewing tools 1150-1600 as a basis for a creating a historically accurate sewing basket. I will post the details of my research once I get done with the revisions, but I wanted to share the story of two wonderful people whose kindness has been a huge help and rekindled my motivation.

The Museum of London has an extant example of a wooden thread reel (what we think of as a spool now) from 1150-1200. has a nice reproduction but they're based in Italy and have a 50 euro minimum order...and shipping from Italy.  We had savanarola chairs shipped from Poland and I was not anxious to deal with international shipping again, even for small items.

reproduction thread reel available at

And the Tudor thread reels that I really wanted, having a late period persona, didn't seem to be available for sale anywhere. The Mary Rose Trust used to offer reproductions but they've been unavailable from their site for months.

artifacts from the Mary Rose, 1545. (

While I'm completely open to trying new crafts, I knew I would never be a tolerable enough woodworker by Midwinter to make thread reels myself. And being a (semi) responsible adult with a a time job, I only had so much time to devote to my projects.  I had a long list of projects with higher priority (like making sure Jay and I had enough clothes to wear at Gulf Wars) than learning woodworking just to make bobbins for my A&S  project.  I'd been dragging my heels on ordering from Medieval Design, hoping I would find a better option, and a bit out of steam on the whole research project, but Midwinter A&S was fast approaching, so I needed a plan.. and soon.

Then in the middle of a recent, wakeful night my mind wandered back to a Facebook non SCA friend, Eric that had started posting pictures of the wooden pens he was making as a hobby....and that a pen and a spindle were a similar shape...   I messaged him the next day, explained my project and asked if he would take a commission for a couple of thread reels. I was a bit concerned I was imposing, but he agreed readily and said he would only charge me for materials & tools he didn't already have and asked me to email him the info I had on the existing examples.

When I googled looking for the picture above, one of the results I got was a picture from a blog:

That book page looked much like the info in Egan's The Medieval Household, discussing the Museum of London find, but discussing the Mary Rose reels. Suddenly I was excited..  a source I hadn't seen with info on sewing tools...there was a page number, and in the comments was the title:  Before the Mast: Life and Death on the Mary Rose.  But Amazon wanted $89 for a copy, the Mary Rose Trust wanted 55 pounds and inter-library loan would take 6 weeks or more. (don't get me on my soapbox about our local  public library system :) )

So I asked on the Artisan of Meridies group if anyone had a copy of Before the Mast and was willing to get me a copy of p. 328.  And...  and....  a kind lady named Barbara who I has never met had a copy and was willing to scan me the whole 4 page section on sewing tools and then provide me biblio info on the sources cited in that section.  I was incredibly grateful and over the moon!

But my amazing luck didn't end there.  Eric messaged me the next day asking all sorts of thoughtful questions that I hadn't thought about: What kind of wood was I thinking of? Walnut would be darker than the pictures but he would recommend ash.  Was American wood acceptable since the sources I sent him were British?  What sort of finish did I want: smooth sanded or oil rubbed? 

Not too long after that, Eric sent me a photo of the blocks he'd cut to make the spindles:

 .And the branches he'd made the blocks from:

And the tree the branches came from:

Apparently, he'd cut down an ash tree from his yard last year and saved the wood!

So thanks to the kindness of Barbara & Eric, my enthusiasm  is back with a vengeance and I am (hopefully) on track  to meet the submission deadline.

Lots of other sewing projects in the works as well; it's been a crazy productive month. But if I'm spending time blogging, then I'm not spending time sewing.  So I'm off to sew....  watch this space!


  1. I love when stuff likes this happens!!! Magic :D See you at Menhir!!

    1. Not sure we will make it to Mehnir.. and I wanted to take your class. :( Pietro is working crazy hours and it's a 4 hour drive for us. Will you be at Midwinter?