Monday, October 29, 2012


Why am I doing this?  I ponder that a lot. And there are a lot of reasons why I decided to do this and why I'm doing it exactly the way I have chosen to.  Primarily, I think, it's because I make things.

Stories, gardens, paintings, toys, furniture, clothing, messes, mistakes... it's all part of the same creative impulse that's driven me throughout my life. It comes from the frustration with what's there not living up to what could be there.

This project is about celebrating the people Who Made All the Things.

When I was a kid, I made many of my own toys.  All of my favorite toy guns came from the crates of miscellaneous junk beneath my grandfather's work bench, not Toys-R-Us.  This isn't because we were particularly poor, and it wasn't because I grew up in 1936 (though it felt like it sometimes). It was because the toys I envisioned in my head were just that much cooler than the ones you could buy at the toy store.

Thankfully, my parents and grandparents encouraged this sort of thing.  At least until I went as far as getting into pounding heated nails into tiny swords for my GI Joes.  Dad drew the line at me becoming an  eight-year-old blacksmith.


Even those toys I did buy or that was given would eventually go under the screwdriver.  All of my favorite GI Joe and Star Wars characters and vehicles were custom amalgamations to suit my own fancy, characters in my own extended story lines.

As an adult, I transferred this into sculpture and artwork, but really these are all extensions of the same brain frequency, the translation of a mental picture into a three-dimensional object.  I've made props for renaissance faires and small theatrical productions and science fiction conventions.

This isn't to toot my own horn.

For one thing, I never got the hang of playing a brass instrument and if I did toot a horn, you wouldn't want to listen to it. My sister got the lion's share of musical talent in this family.  This isn't horn-tooting, it's about the philosophy of what I'm up to, what I'm about.

This is a project about makers.  It's about doers.  It's about pulling the spotlight away from the princes and generals and artists who dominate the history books and shining it on the people in their shadows. I've always found that the trouble with teaching or even talking about history is that it keeps boiling down to bold-face names and red letter dates, which are ultimately meaningless: "William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066."

I came out of school with my head packed to the hair follicles with dates and names like this. But I couldn't have told you what they ate. Or who prepared it. Or how. I could not have told you, beyond the broadest outlines, how their houses were built, or what their daily lives were like.

And it's just getting worse because history is getting bigger and we're spending less time learning it. Encouraging evermore the approach that exemplified the teaching of history as I went through school: Invasion! Battle! New king. Red ink, memorize the boldface names, pass the test and move on. How did they bake bread? Who cares! No time! Look at the shiny armor, memorize the battles, we have more facts to memorize tomorrow.

I came to terms with the fact long ago that if I was to get a deeper understanding of how humankind got from there to here, it was up to me to figure it out on my own. Thankfully, we have the reenactors and their groups to help us out. Vast societies have sprung up in recent decades to keep alive the martial arts of Europe, breathe life into the illustrations of the fighting manuals of Germany, Italy, France, and Spain.

I don't want to denigrate their efforts. There's some amazing things coming out of their salons, vast tracts of forgotten knowledge reawakened by their scholarship. But strength at arms are not my strengths. One reason I've never joined a reenactment society is because I can't find one that focuses solely upon the homelife of the world that was, a society that doesn't spin breathlessly around the rehearsal for a half-forgotten war.

I know the names and dates of the kings and princes and generals that we are told got us to this point in history. Too much of my brain is taken up with the records of destruction. Time for me to turn over those vaults to the records of creating. Because while the kings and generals were off crusading, there were people keeping the rushlights lit back home.

I've studied the fine art of killing people for king and country and personal honor; now I want to  study the things that kept everyone alive between duels and wars. The people who made the renaissance.

Making things. It's what fires me up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Excitement and trepidation: Looking Ahead

Looking at the Big List and trying to map out how and when I will discuss each of the trades. Obviously, there will be overlaps and repetition, and it only makes sense to reduces that as much as possible in order not to bore myself or you, my readers.

One of the things I am thinking about doing is taking a more holistic approach by tracking back from the marketplace to the people creating the goods. I can do this by creating "cells" that consist of overlapping trades/goods so that I can discuss and investigate how certain trades that were reliant on one another. On the whole, I think it would be more interesting to discuss the curriers (who turned skins into leather) in the context of those who would use their leathers to make goods (shoemakers, for instance) and then sell them (the leathersellers).

One of the aspects of this project that has been a stumbling block for me has been how to explore the service trades. It's easy to discuss the dyers and the fishmongers, but how do you explore the plumbers and inholders? By starting with the marketplace and working backwards, it would be easier to put these tradesmen in context with their time and their fellow tradesmen. The innholder could be a jumping off point for exploring brewing, for instance.

There's also the matter of the cottage trades that had not acquired guild status such as the knitters. If I start with those who use the goods (knitters) I could include them in the wider discussion of the liveried trades (the woolmen).

Also, there are parts of this project I am most looking forward to spending time with are the brewers, cooks, and bakers. All things that tweak my interests. The trick then, will be not to give short shrift to the trades that I am not looking forward to or that I find personally boring so that I can spend more time at the hearth.

That will be a very real temptation and could really be a yearlong project all its own without needing to stretch overmuch.  I think cooking and baking are themes we will return to repeatedly throughout the project.

All very much reminding me that this is a work in progress, even as January draws closer.

- Scott

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Make a Joint Stool with Peter Follansbee

If you've been around period woodworking for any length of time, the name Peter Follansbee will keep cropping up. He's an historical joiner that works with Plimoth Plantation and is the author of numerous articles on the history of woodworking, including the recent "Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th Century Joinery" which is near the top of my Christmas list.

Recently, Peter dropped by the Old Woodwright's Shop and discussed the ins and outs of period joinery with Roy Underhill. The result was woodworking magic and valuable research for this project.  I plan to order his book soon and I follow Peter's blog: which is well worth following if you've even a passing interest in either history or turning wood into furniture.

Not sure if I'll make a joint stool since that's obviously been "done" by just about everyone at this point, but there's loads to learn from this book and this video about period joinery.

PBS has several seasons of Woodwright's Shop available to watch online at


Monday, October 15, 2012

Chateau de Guedelon: A medieval castle for the modern era

My friend Jon reminded me the other day of this effort to build a castle in France using artisans pursuing only the period techniques circa 1200 or so.  There was a BBC article updating the world on their progress recently (link below) and it's always something to learn from things like this.

The craftsmanship is amazing, the dedication astounding. It predates my project by hundreds of years, but nonetheless... wow.

Recent BBC coverage:

The Official Website (English edition):

The article on Wikipedia:

Some videos from YouTube:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Livery Companies: A list in progress

This is a work in progress, with the beginnings of details and possible projects being sketched out along with critical resources for completion.  All advice, feedback, and suggestions of source material are appreciated at this stage of things.

Not all of the projects will happen in this order and not all are set in stone. Everything is an idea at this point and I'm not done with the list either. (Hey, I still have a few months, right?) Nevertheless, I'm looking for all the help I can get.

Critical Online Source for Background info: The Records of London's Livery Companies Online:  Apprentices and Freemen 1400-1900

Section 1.01: What shall we eat?

(a)     The Worshipful Company of Salters
Modern Iteration:

The salters began in the manufacture and trade of salt, a key commodity in a time when salt-curing was the only real way to preserve meat for any length of time.

" By the fourteenth century, salt was an essential commodity in England. It was used mainly for preserving meat and fish before the advent of tin cans and refrigeration. Other uses included any operation where ‘chemical’ action was required, such as cleaning, dyeing fabric, bleaching, degreasing, dehairing and softening leather and in the formulation of medicines and ointments.  As well as dealing in salt, Salters were experts in the dry salting of fish and meat and also dealt with flax, hemp, logwood, cochineal, potashes and chemical preparations. The modern day association of The Salters’ Company with chemistry and science can therefore be traced right back to its roots."
- From the modern guild's website
Project: Curing meat. Make some bacon.

(b)    The Worshipful Company of Grocers
Modern Iteration:

Originally the Guild of Pepperers, the grocers became the merchant guild supporting the importation and sale of bulk foodstuffs.Projects: Wheat -- from the field to the ovens. Also the tao of peppercorns.

(c)     The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
Modern Iteration:

The Fishmongers were granted a royal monopoly on the sale of fish in the city of London in 1399 by Richard II. Through most of the period before the Reformation, Three days a week were 'fast days' not counting Lent, making fish (not considered a meat by doctrinal standards) a supremely lucrative market to corner.

Project: Get on a boat and go catch a fish.  No, really. Out to sea with you! Then bring it home and cook it.

(d)    The Worshipful Company of Brewers
Modern Iteration:

Brewers brewed beer on an industrial scale, setting the standards and trade practices for an important comestible in the days before water purification. Historians estimate that northern Europeans drank an average of three liters of beer a day; it was of widely variant alcohol content (hence Henry VI proposing that drinking 'small beer' be a crime in Shakespeare's play) but that's still a lot of beer.
Research Note: Strangely, the spectacles makers first aligned under the brewer's banner before being granted their own charter in the next century.

Project: Period beer brewed in a proper oak barrel. Maybe some spectacles as a bonus project?

(e)     The Worshipful Company of Bakers
Modern Iteration: 
The other half of the twin staples of the medieval and renaissance diet: bread and beer, the bakers were immensely powerful in early modern society. Most villagers could not afford an oven of their own, so communal ovens were often created or the village baker would bake the loaves of the village goodwives for a nominal fee.

Note: The function and nature of yeast was not understood until the latter half of the 18th century. The brewers and bakers worked together in this mystery, the bakers obtaining their yeast from the brewers stocks as often as from natural sources such as apple trees, oddly enough.
Project: Build a wood-fired oven and bake some bread

(f)      The Worshipful Company of Cooks
Modern Iteration:

Near and dear to my foodie heart (especially considering the inspiration of this project) this is also the smallest of the livery companies, the cooks were a confederation of those who made food for others.

Project: Cooking in ceramic vessels over open flames. (Demo)Project: Cooking in ceramic vessels over open flames. (Demo)

(g)     The Worshipful Company of Butchers
Modern Iteration: (website currently inactive 09/21/2012)

They are just as you might think they are, those who guide and control the slaughter of livestock and the sale of their meat. A crucial force in a time before refrigeration, it was the butchers who held their members responsible for selling meats that had been properly cured or freshly killed and punished those who sold bad meat to the detriment of public health.

Project: Meat in the Elizabethan diet. Cooking demo on the rotisserie.

(h)    The Worshipful Company of Poulterers
Modern Iteration:

The poulters were responsible in much the same way as the butchers for the regulation of trade and husbandry for all poultry, including chickens, ducks, swans, pigeons, as well as rabbits.
Project: Count your chickens before they hatch.

(i)      The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
Modern Iteration:

The orchards and gardens of England produced many fruits for the tables of the renaissance. The fruiterers governed the trade and quality of the fruits both fresh and preserved imported into the city.
Project: Cider from the tree to the press to the bottle.  Get thee to Yakima!

Section 1.02 What shall we wear?

(a)     The Worshipful Company of Dyers
Modern Iteration:

Those who held and protected the mysteries of dyed cloth and traded in the dyestuffs used for same.Project: Experiment with period dyestuffs, maybe a madder and an indigo.

(b)    The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
Modern Iteration:

The combination of the Shearmen and the Fullers, combining two aspects of the creation of woolen cloth. Taking the woolens from the weaver and then fulling and trimming it into the material used for darn near everything in the 16th century.

Project: Time for a discussion of the many period forms of woolen cloth available in the 16th century and how they differ from the modern ideas of wool.

(c)     The Worshipful Company of Merchant Tailors
Modern Iteration:

Tailors and creators of clothing, both made to measure and off the rack (though little of it was off the rack unless it was used, the province of the fripperer.)
Project: Patter drafting and draping techniques with Joel Reid, who has graciously volunteered.

(d)    The Worshipful Company of Skinners
Modern Iteration:

Trade in furs and the management of the trade of furs and fur garments in a time when the wearing or possession of same could be a crime.

Projects: Zibellini and the Victorian imagination -- the myth of the flea fur.

(e)     The Worshipful Company of Mercers
Modern Iteration:
See the Haberdasher's, below.

Project: ??? Yeah, not sure about this one.

(f)      The Worshipful Company of Drapers
Modern Iteration:

See the Haberdasher's, below.

Project: ???

(g)     The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
Modern Iteration:

Three associations of merchants and purveyors of cloth, the Mercers, Drapers, and Haberdashers are weirdly intertwined and overlapping, often to the point of creating confusion even in their own ranks.  The haberdashers at least had a focus on sewing supplies, needles, pins, and cetera.
This one will be a dawdle to demonstrate, but a b**** to explain in a non-wonky manner.

Great Google Books source material here.
Project: Create and demonstrate the proper use of period sewing kit and various basic tradegoods.

(h)    The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
Modern Iteration:

A guild that controls the sale of leather goods and inspects every hide and leather good in London to verify quality and origin, punishing imposters who attempt to substitute one skin for another. This gives them control over the crucial supplies that are the lifeblood of  those whose livelihoods require leather, including the Cordwainers, Curriers, Girdlers, Glovers, Glovers, and Saddlers as well as some of the ancillary goods that arise from the manufacture of leather, such as the Tallow Chandlers.

It's interesting to note that despite their prominence on the Leatherseller's website, the making of leather bottles was the province of the Horners Company.

General leatherworking. Gloves or a purse, perhaps?

(i)       The Worshipful Company of Girdlers
Modern Iteration:

Makers of luxury goods: fine belts for the gentry, including sword belts and hangers.

Project: Swordhanger.a cloth one Discussion: The myth of the Hollywood BIG BUCKLE SWASHBUCKLER BELT.

(j)      The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers
Modern Iteration:

Fine leather used in the production of shoes and other luxury goods, mostly from cordovan, a goat leather developed in Spain and considered to be the finest available in the period.

Projects: Shoes -- Need to track down and get an introduction to a proper shoemaker working in a period style and methodology.

(k)    The Worshipful Company of Weavers (The Most Ancient)
Modern Iteration:

Quite possibly the earliest craft mastered by human hands, the weavers style themselves "The Most Ancient" for good reason.  Originally the most powerful of all the textile guilds, the weavers waned in power as the specialist textile guilds rose: the mercers especially.
Projects: Warm up that loom that's in the living room.

(l)      The Worshipful Company of Woolmen
Modern Iteration:

Spinning, sheep, and selling raw wool. Wool was England's strongest and most important industry up to the Industrial revolution. "So concerned was Queen Elizabeth I about the wool trade that she had Parliament make everyone over the age of six (except the wealthiest) wear on Sundays "a cap of wool knit and dressed in England". Under Charles II Parliament passed a law requiring coffins to be lined in fleece and shrouds to be made of wool. Later, carriages had to be lined with it." - Guild website

Project: Herding, Shearing, Carding, and Spinning. THEN, knit something because the knitters never formed a guild and deserve some notice. A nice hat, perhaps.

(m)  The Worshipful Company of Curriers
Modern Iteration:

Those who cured leather for eventual use by others to create trade goods.
Project: Cure a hide? I am so very much not looking forward to this one.

(n)    The Worshipful Company of Broderers
Modern Iteration:

The broderers were artists in thread, the embroiderers who adorned everything from tapestries to clothing, even creating home embroidery kits reminiscent of modern cross stitch kits.
Stitch demos, simple blackwork

Section 1.03 Makers of Hard Goods

(a)     The Worshipful Company of Pewterers

Project: Soapstone casting -- make a pendant or a hat badge.

(b)    The Worshipful Company of GoldsmithsIncluded workers in silver.

Project: Yeah, I still dunno.

(c)     The Worshipful Company of Cutlers

Project: Hilt an eating knife or cooking knife?

(d)    The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers

Project: Beekeeping and wax candles.

(e)     The Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers

Project: Rushlights! LARD; it's not just for dinner anymore.

(f)      The Worshipful Company of Armorers & Brasiers

(g)     The Worshipful Company of Saddlers
Modern Iteration:

Obvious, isn't it? They made saddles but not usually tack.
Project: No ideas. All of the horse-related items together in one. I think I might need to discuss this with Neb & Gordon first. They're the most knowledgeable people I know about these things...             
(i)     Loriners (edited)- Makers of tack. A Loriner produced horse furnishings in leather, fabric and metal such as traces, bridles, bits and spurs. (via Leatherworking Rev)
I didn't know that bit about the spurs, but it certainly makes sense. Their status as an independent entity is uncertain (to me) at this time, but tied to the saddlers.

(h)    The Worshipful Company of Founders (Brass and Bronze)

Project: Lost wax casting in Brass.

(i)      The Worshipful Company of Coopers

Project: Make a Mary Rose stein and maybe a butter churn.

(j)      The Worshipful Company of Bowyers

Project: Visit Patrick's Friend. Maybe a trip to Maryland?
(k)    The Worshipful Company of fletchers
Project: Learn to shoot the bow and arrow from Robin Hood. Yes, Robin Hood. If he will deign to teach me, of course...

(l)      The Worshipful Company of Joiners & Ceilerers

Project: The hand-jointed X-chair sans nails.

(m)  The Worshipful Company of Stationers

Project: Making paper.

(n)    The Worshipful Company of Upholders

Project: Upholster an X-chair?

(o)    The Worshipful Company of Turners

Project: Human-powered lathe

(p)    The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers

Project: Weave a basket, of course.

(q)    The Worshipful Company of Glaziers

Project: Glass in an Elizabethan home.

(r)     The Worshipful Company of Horners (And Bottlers)

Project: Beaker, Spoon, leather Bottel

Section 1.04 Services & Labor

(a)     The Worshipful Company of Barbers

(b)    The Worshipful Company of Carpenters

Making period nails and assembling something with them. Perhaps a nice chest or something?

(c)     The Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers

(d)    The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths

Make some stuff: Pinking chisels, stonemason's chisels, hinges, hasps, etcetera...

                (i)     Farriers are still in the mix in this period, I think. Once again, I should email Gordon for leads on this one...

(e)     The Worshipful Company of Masons

Projects: Carve a Mortar & Pestle? Not really a mason's main gig, but still it's pretty fiddly as stonecutting goes...

(f)      The Worshipful Company of Plumbers

(g)     The Worshipful Company of Innholders

(h)    The Worshipful Company of Tilers & Bricklayers

Project: Build a brick hearth for the back yard.

(i)      The Worshipful Company of Scriveners

Project: Quills, inks, and the strange mysteries of Elizabethan secretary script.

(j)      The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers

Project: Would this include plaster moulding or maybe just painting a fresco?

(k)    The Worshipful Company of Musicians

Project: Recorder lessons