This year my good friend gave me free range to make her an epic Scythian hat. Her only stipulation was that she wanted to be able to walk through doors while wearing it. I had not researched anything Scythian related before this year, so it was a new and interesting challenge for me. There are not a lot of images of women in Scythian art and the few depicted tend to be goddesses. There have been a number of archeological finds, and some reconstructions of the hats worn by the deceased based on where the plaques fell in the grave as the textiles deteriorated. I started the project looking at sources available online, and was able to purchase some books that helped once I had started. I ended up doing a lot of the research during the making of the hat because many of the resources for Scythian things online are unattributed or in Russian or both. At some point I decided I just needed to start the hat so that my friend could have it in a reasonable timeline, and I continued diving into the research and collecting books along the way. This project ended up with a little bit of everything – sewing, hat blocking, metal embossing, and casting.
I initially found these three hats online, all labeled as reconstructions based on where the plaques fell in the graves. The book Scythian Gold has a much better resolution of the middle hat on page 120.
I came across this plaque that shows a woman wearing a very similar hat. I decided to take inspiration from all three hats and create one that elements taken from them all.
Scythian plaques were made in a variety of ways. They could be cast, hammered into a die, or made by repousse and chasing. I did not have the tools for the latter two, so I looked for plaques that I could recreate by using an embossing technique on lightweight metal. The types of plaques that I made are much more likely to have been made with a dye. They are simple, and many of the plaques found look almost identical to each other in a way that I could not achieve by hammering and pressing each by hand. Many of the Scythian plaques were also made out of very fine gauge gold. I am using brass because I unfortunately do not have the budget for an all gold decorated hat.
I used 36 gauge brass as a stand in for the gold. This can be easily formed with cheap tools used for clay and can be cut with household scissors.
I made a variety of plaques in order to give myself a good range of options when I started making the hat. The Scythian aesthetic is definitely “more is more”. I will admit that I was also using this process to procrastinate on starting the hat itself, because the research on what shape it should be was taking longer than I expected.
The veil is made of a medium weight silk with a very nice drape. I hemmed it by hand with silk thread, and sewed the plaques along one of the long edges. I made the hem very deep on this edge to help support the plaques.
The hat is made out of a wool felt hat blank. I soaked it in hot water and then pulled it over a broom handle in order to get the point, then shaped it by hand while it was still wet. I unfortunately forgot to get pictures of this process, but it was fairly simple.
My friend has an affinity for ravens, and I found an image of a supposedly raven pendant online that I wanted to base mine on. While the image is of questionable source, the art style does seem to fit with the Scythian animalistic style.
I had never done any casting before, and I’ll skip over the first day of proof-of-concept learning and failures. From what (minimal information) I have read, it sounds like these most likely would have been made using the lost-wax casting technique. However, I chose to sand cast due to its lower entry cost. Many of the plaques I have seen can easily be made in a two part mold, whether that mold is made of sand, ceramic, or something else.
After the first casting (shown above) I did move the wax raven closer to the spout so that I did not have such a long sprue. This gave me better castings as the material had less time to cool before hitting the mold, and used less material on each. Once I had several successful castings, I took one of the brass ravens and made a double mold so that I could cast two ravens at once. I was not great at getting the connection between the two big enough (I did not want to make it too big and have more of the sprue connection to sand later) so this only worked about fifty percent of the time. I thinned the wax raven as much as I could without losing any detail. They are still heavier than I would have liked. If I were to do this again, I would have made these plaques hollow, like in Masters of the Steppe on page 168. This would have reduced their weight considerably.
The first bronze I used was far too pink to match the brass plaques. I switched to another brass/bronze alloy that was much more yellow, as shown in the picture above on the right. This picture also shows several incomplete castings, and several castings with the sprue still attached. Thankfully the sprue can be cut off and reused, so there is little wasted material.
After cutting the sprues off and filing the attachment point smooth, I drilled the stitching holes and threw the plaques in a rock tumbler with steel shot. This cleaned them off very effectively and gave them a nice shine. It is hard to see in the picture below, but it makes a big difference in real life.
Now I just had to start the process of sewing everything onto the hat. I started at the bottom of the hat and worked my way up, but in retrospect it would have been much easier to start at the top. By starting at the bottom, I ended up crushing a lot of the plaques when I was trying to smoosh the hat up so that I could work in the tip. This isn’t a big deal, but meant I spent a lot of time squishing the tips of the triangles back into place.
I really liked the look of the hats with the plaques all the way around, and I really wanted to make a hat that would look good with or without the veil. I tried playing with some other options in order to make the hat lighter, but after consideration I decided that the only solution was to go all out.
Once everything was sewn on, I starched the inside with modern spray starch. The wool was drooping a bit, and I had crushed the shape of the hat in order to sew everything on. I had intended on trying a historical starch, but had not found any information on what would have been likely and I honestly just was excited to give the hat to my friend. This was very effective at stiffening the hat and keeping it from collapsing. I also added a linen band in the brim in order to keep it from stretching.
While heavy, the hat is surprisingly easy to wear. The plaques in the front of the veil balance the weight of the fabric in back so that you do not feel the veil pulling backwards as you wear it. Since the ravens are placed all around the hat, the weight is distributed evenly around your head and there are no hotspots when you wear it. The weight also keeps the hat firmly on your head without the need for any other way of securing it. You can move fairly normally while wearing it without fear of it falling off.
- Pankova, Svletlana and St. John Simpson (ed.). Masters of the Steppe: the Impact of the Scythians and Later Nomad Societies of Eurasia, Archeopress Publishing Ltd., 2020
- Reeder, Ellen D (ed.). Scythian Gold, Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1999
- Cunliffe, Barry. The Scythians, Nomad Warriors of the Steppe, Oxford University Press 2019
- Aruz, Joan, Ann Farkas, Andrei Alekseev, and Elena Korolkova. The Golden Deer of Eurasia, Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Steppe, The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Yale University Press, 2000
This project involved an era and region that is new to me and a lot of new skills. Mistress Achaxe Achada was an incredible help, and fielded far too many “Is this real?” texts from me. I also had a lot of help from the Scythian Costuming Group on Facebook, particularly Baroness Vivien NicUldoon, Refskegg House Bread, and Baroness Constance Davies who all sent me resources and helped orient me towards good research in an unfamiliar era. Firouzeh Arash Azar taught me the method to make the embossed plaques. Viscount Matheus Bane let me use his shop and helped me cast the ravens, while Duke Morgan Claymore lent me all his casting gear to see if this was something that I wanted to do.
I have been enjoying trying projects and techniques that are new to me, and I have been using the Medieval Finds from Excavations in London books as inspiration. I started with some very simple wire wrapping projects and have been working my way through the books as I add new skills and techniques into my arsenal.
Wire Wrapped Ring
I started by making a very simple wire wrapped ring. This is found on page 331 of Dress Accessories 1150-1450 and is figure 1622. I wrapped 24 gauge silver plated silver wire around a ring mandrel about five times, then spiraled the ends of the wire around them to make the wraps and hold it together.
This is a very interesting brooch from figure 1339 on page 254 of Dress Accessories. There is no information on how it was used, but it seems like it might work well for holding up hose. I plan on testing that theory the next time I get dressed in an outfit that requires them. To make this, I used WHAT GAUGE brass wire and formed it around a ring mandrel for the loop, then bent one end of the wire into a hook and wrapped the other around the hook side to secure it. I hammered the ring flat, and then formed the pin out of another length of wire. Once it was shaped, I sharpened both the hook and the pin with a file.
Netting Needles and Gauges
All this wire stuff actually started because I’d decided I wanted to make a 16th century German hairnet, and I could not find reproduction tools that I could afford. There are two extant netting needle in Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 in figure 118 on page 147. After some brainstorming with Matheus Bane, he suggested I could make them out of wire by sawing and bending the tines. These are made out of 14 gauge wire, but I have since discovered that I like using 13 gauge piano wire the best. It comes pre-hardened and already straight (rather than off a coil) so I do not have to spend as much time straightening and work hardening them.
The process is simple if a little fiddly. I hammer the ends of the wire flat, then, using a jeweler’s saw, cut down the tip as straight as I can to the depth that I want the tines. I then spread them into a T shape and hammer them square. This also helps squish any weird wobbles I got when sawing. This is also the best time to sand them so that the tines are smooth and do not catch the thread. Then I bend them into shape using smooth nosed pliers and give the whole needle a last sanding and a good shine. There are unfortunately no extant netting needle gauges, but pretty much anything with a consistent width works. My friend cut me a set out of oak that I then sanded and sealed with linseed oil, and then I made another set out of bone.
The netting needles and gauges work great. This is my first attempt at a round hairnet based very roughly on a large-gauge one in Textiles and Clothing on page 149. I actually like using them better than the modern netting needles because the tines can be gently bent to accommodate different thicknesses of thread. It also just makes me feel cool!
14th Century Hairpins
This is yet another project pulled from the pages of Dress Accessories 1150-1450. There is a line drawing of a 14th century hairpin on page 295, image 196. It states that it is a “U-shaped hairpin with twisted wire decoration”.
I use the “Artistic Wire Coiling Gizmo” to make the coils. It is just a little stand and a handful of mandrels that make coiling the wire around a rod easier. It isn’t necessary but it is helpful! For the coils I bought 26 gauge wire, and the hairpins are 14 gauge wire. I unfortunately missed taking a photograph of the pin making step, but I work-hardened the wire just like I did for the netting needles and then bent the wire into a U shape around the handle of a hammer. Once bent, I trimmed the ends even and sanded the tips smooth. The coiled wires are then slipped onto the hair pins, the ends wrapped, and then they are soldered in place.
I made two pins that are the size that matches the extant one, and two smaller ones. I thought that the smaller ones might be more useful for securing temple braids in my particular hair. They are very useful for this and hold my hair well, though I do find that the coils catch my hair if I am not careful.
Wire Wrapped Brooch
After the hairpins, the wire wrapped brooch in image 1340 on page 254 of Dress Accessories looked like fun to try. I made the wire wraps in the same method as above, and made a ring out of 14 gauge wire. By leaving the end of the ring open, I can slip the coil on and then solder it shut.
This did take some experimentation. I had to be very careful to get the wires just hot enough for the solder to flow, but not so hot that the thin wire melted. The coils act just like a radiator does, and they heat up VERY quickly. In the upper right in the gallery above, you can see a finished ring with no coils. I had tried to see if I could coil the wire around the ring after soldering it, but it was very hard to then keep the coils even. It was better to slide the wraps on first and then just be super careful while soldering. The central pin is just a piece of wire that I hammered flat, bent around the ring, and then filed until the tip was sharp.
I very much would like to cast a thimble, but so far my efforts have not panned out. I saw a ring thimble made out of sheet metal in The Medieval Household on page 267. Medieval thimbles could have their pits drilled or punched, and I chose punching because I already have the tools for that. I put the cut out copper in a pitch pot in order to support it while I punched in the dots, using a blunt end tool and a hammer. I did this by eye, as many of the originals look a little wonky. I figure I’ll be able to get them much more even with more practice.
After the dots were punched, I formed the thimble into a ring and held it together with tweezers while soldering. I used a copper solder so that the joint would not stand out on the copper thimble. I still need a lot of practice with this, but I was happy to get it to finally work. After I had a good join, I could hammer it back into round on my ring mandrel. After some (but clearly not yet enough!) cleaning, I had a working thimble!
Pewter Casting in Sandstone Molds
I wanted to try carving and casting out of soapstone because almost all the extant 14th century badges shown in Pilgrim Souvenirs and Badges look to be cast in carved molds, and the book shows some extant molds as well. Soapstone is easy to carve with basically anything, so I used many of the same tools I’d used to carve the wax as well as using a very cheap set of wood carving tools.
The soapstone needs to be heated in order to not suck all the heat from the molten pewter as soon as the pewter is poured. I found that with such small molds, putting it on top of my melting pot while melting the pewter was enough to give me a good casting. On the right above is my first try at carving and casting soapstone based on a badge in image 125 in Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges. A friend contacted me about making SCA household badges for the “Brewer’s Guild”, so I made one based off a generic medieval jug.
I can just draw directly onto the soapstone to plan my design. After that, I carve it very slowly and try casting after each step.
In the image above you can see this process. Once I got the main outline working, I focused on getting the handle to cast consistently by deepening the carving and adding more vents for the air to escape. While I did this I also deepened the belly of the jug and fine tuned the shaping. Once I was happy with that, I could add the detail lines. The jug in the bottom right is the finished badge.
I used this same process to make the hexagon brooches pictured below. These are also based off image number 1346 in Dress Accessories. The pin is made out of stainless steel wire for strength. The brooch these are based off of has lost its pin, but there have been other brooches found with a harder metal for the pin than the brooch itself is made out of. I was worried that a pewter pin would bend and become unusable too quickly.
“Bocksten Man” Cloak
This is a 14th century cloak based on the Bocksten Man’s cloak. I chose to use some heavy yellow tabby weave wool that is somewhere between coat weight and blanket weight. I did not follow the piecing done for the Bocksten Man’s cloak, since my fabric width required piecing in different places. Since these seams will not get much stress on them at all, I decided to try a different method of attaching the pieces. I butted the unfinished edges of the cloak together and then used hidden stitches to bring the pieces together.
I made the buttons out of circles of fabric, and sewed the buttonholes with silk thread. This method for both buttons and buttonholes is shown in Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London, Volume 4) by Crowfoot, Pritchard, and Staniland. Fabric buttons can be found on extant hoods, so I do not think that using them on a cloak is too far of a stretch. The silk thread gave the buttonholes a very nice sheen that is hard to see in pictures.
I used a narrow silk grosgrain ribbon to face the neckline. It doesn’t need much, but I did notice a tiny bit of stretch where the neckline is cut on the bias and I was worried about the weight of the cloak eventually pulling the neckline out of shape. (Crowfoot, Pritchard, Staniland Fig. 131)
I faced the buttonhole side of the closure with some linen. I think facing the entire opening with the linen like I did on the last ones was overkill. The wool is sturdy enough that the button side doesn’t need extra stability. I used some waxed silk thread to sew the buttonholes. It isn’t perfect, but it worked and it looks decent from the outside. Someday I will make buttonholes that are pretty on both sides, but this is not that day! I sewed the buttons on with the same thread. You can’t see much of it, but it does give a nice hint of extra shine.
I found this effigy of William of Hatfield that showed a better view of the side dags than I had seen before. I experimented a lot, but with the help of my boyfriend and a friend, we settled on turning my bottom dag pattern by 45 degrees and tracing that. I discovered that this only works if you have a dag with straight sides rather than rounded sides, because they need to butt up nicely against each other when the pattern is tilted. Since the wool is fulled, they need no other finishing (Crowfoot, Pritchard, Staniland pg. 194)
Cutting these took forever, but the effect is worth it! They flutter when I walk, and make the cloak extra fun to wear.
- Prichard, Frances & Geoff Egan. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: Dress Accessories 1150-1450, Boydell Press with the Museum of London, 1991.
- Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Prichard, and Key Staniland. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Boydell Press with the Museum of London, 1992
- Spencer, Brian. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges, Boydell Press with the Museum of London, 2010
- Eagan, Jeff. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: The medieval Household, Daily Living c. 1150-c.1450, Boydell Press with the Museum of London, 1998